We lied to you

(Inspired by Cory Doctorow's DRM speech.)

Dear Media Industry:

We lied to you. In the golden 80s and 90s we told you micropayments and content protection would work; that you would be able to charge minuscule amounts of money whenever someone listened to your music or watched your movie. We told you untruths which we well knew would never work - after all, we would've never used them ourselves. Instead, we wrote things like Kazaa and Gnutella, and all other evil P2P applications to get the stuff free.

We told you these things so that you would finance the things we really wanted to build, not the things that you wanted to be built. We knew all along that DRM schemes do not work, and we knew that whatever we create can be broken by us. We don't care anymore, because your money made us bigger than you.

Look at us: every year, we churn out more computer games than your entire industry is worth. You know how we do it? We like our customers. We don't treat them like potential criminals, and try to make our products do less. We invent new things like online role-playing -games, where the money does not come from duplication of bits (which cannot be stopped, regardless of your DRM scheme) but from providing experiences that the people want.

We saw that you were old and weak. So we took advantage of it: told you things that you wanted to hear so we could kick you in the head in twenty years. Some of us told you that the future is going to be interactive - what did you do? You started to think how to make interactive movies (CD-I, anyone?), which is not what it really means, while we wrote games and tried to understand the new mediums, not how to bolt it on onto old things.

We lied to you. And we apologize for that, but it was for the greater good. So we're not the least bit sorry.

Signed: The Computer Industry

Updated: Changed the title - it was pointed out to me that it unfairly pokes at the creative people themselves, and not enough at the large multinational companies.

Update 2: This entry has now been translated into French. Whoa.


"We invent new things like online role-playing -games, where the money does not come from duplication of bits (which cannot be stopped, regardless of your DRM scheme) but from providing experiences that the people want."

Excuse me? I don't know what you're on, but I'd like to have my share, too.

While I understand and agree the basic message, speaking about online roleplaying games like they're some kind of milestone of creativity, is so to speak, absurd. Also including the duplication of bits. Heck, most of the online roleplaying games in market today is exactly about duplicating one scheme and multiplying it by the userbase.

--Merten, 21-Sep-2004

I'm sorry, but this entry makes no sense. Computer games ARE content and software houses are content producers. And computer games industry has been treating their customers as scumbags and thieving pirates since the 80's, reaching lows the record companies and movies studios have never even dreamt of.

If you don't believe this, you have never tried playing Elite with the infernal Lenslock copy protection system.

--TK, 21-Sep-2004

Actually, I played Elite with Spectrum. In the 1980s. Lenslok was used in the 8-bit versions only; my Amiga version does not have it.

I also remember working around the copy protection by learning to recognize the patterns, because it was too much of a hassle to drag the Lenslok out every time.

I don't remember seeing any invasive, user-annoying copy protection for the past few years on computer games, because we figured out really fast that they don't work. I'd love to hear counter-examples.

And yes, computer games are content. That's what makes the whole thing so funny: The computer industry is a far bigger content producer than what the traditional content producers ever were - but I didn't want to muddle the issue by humming and hawing about the definition of content.

Merten: I'm not talking about the creativity of the MMORPGs. It's the business model, which actually works (as evidenced by the fact that everyone is trying to duplicate it, as you point out). That's the interesting thing about those games.

Sorry for taking such a rapid context shift from technology to business. Apparently not everyone got on board :)

--JanneJalkanen, 21-Sep-2004

"I'm not talking about the creativity of the MMORPGs. It's the business model, which actually works (as evidenced by the fact that everyone is trying to duplicate it, as you point out). That's the interesting thing about those games."

That's more than a bit simplified version of the Real World (tm). While the business model looks good on the paper, very few MMORPG's have actually become a financial success. And given the fact that there's a lot of games in production (even after a lot of them have been cancelled), and only a limited amount of players available, I'd gather that there will be a lot less successes in near future.

Not to take into account things like short term intrest in MMORPG's (lack of content), the amount of online time invested (which binds the players to one or at the most two games at time) and so on.

The problem, though, is not about duplicating the business model, but duplicating the game model.

Not completely relevant, but intresting:


--Merten, 22-Sep-2004


Have you ever wondered why games industry is so keen to protect their product TK?

Still the future plan is that all games are to be weblinked in some way if the industry big-wigs are to be believed, even if they are single-player. Starcraft was an example of how this is done successfully.

--Dragon, 22-Sep-2004

I'm under the impression that Galactic Civilizations was also a successfull example of linking single-player games, though on a smaller scale.

--Merten, 22-Sep-2004

Merten - I agree that it is a simplified version. And of course, once one company launches a successful online fantasy role playing game, everybody tries to duplicate it - and there are not enough people to support that kind of an ecosystem. I'm not saying this are perfect in the computer industry side - but regardless: games industry is bigger than movie industry ($10.3B vs $9.7B).

A better question is perhaps then: why was it that Apple (a computer company) launched the iPod and the iTunes music store and made it a (relative) success? Why is Microsoft (again, a computer company) trying to do the same? Why couldn't Sony/Universal, Disney, Vivendi, or the other big media companies do it? I mean - all you need to do is to hire a bunch of coders... Answer is that they tried, and failed.

I actually do recommend reading Cory's article, BTW. You need to read it to understand the context of my entry.

--JanneJalkanen, 22-Sep-2004

"every year, we churn out more computer games than your entire industry is worth." -- this is a bit ingenius. It costs a hell of a lot more to buy a computer game (plus the computer etc.) than to watch a TV programme or go to the cinema or buy a music CD. So saying that the computer world "beat" the entertainment world just because the computer world earns more is a very silly capitaist way of playground fighting.


--badly dubbed boy, 22-Sep-2004

I've read the said article and mentioned that I agree with it and your points concerning DRM - I'm just nitpicking your comments about games industry and especially MMORPG's, of which both you seem to have an all too rosy picture.

Concerning the DRM itself; most of the online games have a strict policy of "register once" - they're sold with a cd-key which enables you to register yourself as a paying customer. But you can't sell the (physical) game onwards - the cd-key cannot be used again. Is that an example of a working DRM-system or just a good ol' copy protection?

--Merten, 22-Sep-2004

Merten: I had to pick something as a poster boy. Perhaps you had something better in mind?

badly dubbed boy: Hell yeah it is. The whole thing is so bloody silly that I alternately cry and laugh whenever I try to wrap my brain around it...

--JanneJalkanen, 22-Sep-2004

Boy, you're really on the side of the angels here, railing against those evil content producers -- like musicians and writers and painters and (ooh, wait) the people who actually design MMORPGs so that you can have a place to socialize where people don't laugh at your haircut.

I suppose it never occurred to you that without people actually *making* content, p2p apps are worthless. And let's be honest here: there aren't a lot of computer industry people making content, or at least content worth having. There's a reason that "Richard Stallman flute playing" doesn't make the top 10,000 search list on any p2p network.

I am someone who makes my entire living as a writer and musician; I do not love the current copyright system, and indeed have worked to change it in my small way. Nor do I have any love at all for the system in which content is distributed -- which is why I started an online music store (mperia.com) where artists can sell their own work via micropayments and keep most of the profits.

Because you are not very bright, and clearly don't actually produce any sort of art yourself (other than blogranting, which is about as much of an art as scrawling dirty limericks on bathroom walls), you have confused the people who MAKE art with the people who SELL art. They are often not the same people.

Why is this? Because the people who make art generally have limited resources to distribute it...which, of course, means that they're not terribly likely to earn a living doing things themselves. (Musicians like Ani DiFranco and Fugazi are very much exceptions to the rule.) And they stand even less of a chance to do so when witless geeks like yourself call for a world in which everything is free.

Nobody wants to rip you off, my man -- people simply want to get compensated for their work. If that doesn't happen, they don't work. It's as true of writers and musicians as it is of dockworkers and cab drivers.

Not all of us can afford to have our parents pay our rent whilst we lounge around agonizing over our craft. And very few of us wish to lick the boots of some patron, like a Renaissance sculptor. But without getting paid, the only people who will make art are the people who ARE willing to do these things; and I submit for your approval the notion that trust fund babies and ass-kissing social climbers are not, as a rule, the best artists.

Why don't you try thinking about this a little harder? I mean, I realize that you've probably got a huge boner because Doctorow linked to you on BoingBoing and all the other script kiddies are blowing you via TrackBack...but believe me, that doesn't mean you have any fucking clue as to what you're babbling about.

Sincerely, Joshua Ellis

--Josh Ellis, 22-Sep-2004

Janne said: "I don't remember seeing any invasive, user-annoying copy protection for the past few years on computer games, because we figured out really fast that they don't work. I'd love to hear counter-examples."

Oh, there's still tons of really bad and broken copy protection out there, on both major and minor titles.

An example that springs to mind: A few months ago a major publisher (I think it may have been UbiSoft, not sure) started using a protection system that will not let the game run if there is a known virtual CD-drive app (e.g. Alcohol) running at the same time. Such apps have *many* completely legit uses, and many honest gamers use them to copy their CDs to disk so they don't have to keep shoving them in and out of their computers whenever they want to play a game.

This is merely one of the most heinous copy-protection stories I've heard in the past year, as opposed to the only one. I boggled at your blog entry because, despite what you may think, the "computer industry" is still actively pursuing DRM systems with as much zeal as ever.

--, 22-Sep-2004

Oops... forgot to sign that last entry.

--Yoz, 22-Sep-2004

Come on people, lighten up. It's funny!

--El Biggus, 22-Sep-2004

"Nobody wants to rip you off, my man -- people simply want to get compensated for their work."... This is very true, however who is to determine fair compensation? If you find a VCR for 80% off at some store, are you ripping off the VCR maker? Oh, not to mention how you blow your entire credibility after this statement. Should have quit while you were ahead.

"there aren't a lot of computer industry people making content"... I guess because the things we create are "tools" rather then "content" and thus makes us inferior. Thank you for putting us in our place. Or is it that the content we do create is digital and doesn't count because its freely accessable on the web?

Good read. Listen to Biggus, he knows whats up.

--XLShadow, 22-Sep-2004

Josh, darling, actually I get my kicks out of people coming to my weblog and screaming their heads off for seeing something that's supposed to be funny.

Works pretty well these days, since irony is an art so forgotten people don't recognize it on sight anymore :-D.

But to be more on a positive side: I applaud your efforts, I'm all for them! You're one of those people who are actually trying to take back the control of art, which is great! And micropayments meant paying very, very small amounts of money (like a cent each time you listen to something), not like "Buy this MP3 for 99 cents", just to clarify.

--JanneJalkanen, 22-Sep-2004

First of all, the games business is NOT bigger then Hollywood. Not even close. The 9B figure is for box-office. The DVD business was closer to 30B. Also, the games business figure includes hardware (i.e. console) sales. The be fair, you'd have to include the sales of DVD machines, and that would dwarf the game industry numbers.

Trust me, we're no where close to Hollywood. Throw in the Music and TV industries and we're a smear on the road.

Also, please note the MMORPGs work because it's the perfect DRM system. People like you would be throwing a fit if the music business did the same thing. Why can't I play my Everquest without the evil corperation watching my every move. What about my fair-use rights to play everquest on any server!

This is the dumbest, most misinformed, "I want free shit" rant I've ever read. Get a clue.

--Tanko, 22-Sep-2004

Tanko: Actually, to be fair, you need to include the sales of computer hardware as well. Which is not an insignificant number.

And where on earth did I say "I want free shit"?

It's fun how people read what they want. ;-)

--JanneJalkanen, 22-Sep-2004

To make such a bold statement, and then to state "hey, just lighten up--its supposed to be humorous" is inconsistent. The mentality espoused in the original post embodies an entire mentality and mind-set--- illuninated well by Joshua Ellis-- that is not only a thing of fantasy, but a mindset that can do alot of harm and cause grief to people such as myself and Joshua, who try to survive by writing, painting, etc. But more importantly than inadvertently slapping the faces of people who sacrifice in many ways for their art and belief, the post again states a complex issue in the "us against them" mind-set that seems, despite the proliferation of powerful commiunication mediums such as the internet---- seems to be more and more prevalent than ever. Thats really unfortunate.

The film world and gaming world both create content, and both have mixed results; theres a ton of crap out there by both parties. At worst, they re-inforce the status quo; at best they erode it. The question, then is not "film industry vs. game industry"-- an artificial distinction anyway--but how each relates to the status quo. And gaming can ofcourse reinforce the staus quo all too well. Whats bothersome about the initial post is its self congratualtory "I use a computer, aren't I like Che Gueverra" self imprtance, which is ludicrous. Doesn't anyone have a critical, rigorous eye anymore? Go play a game on your p2p cell phone, Che, and bring down The Man by giving more money to the telecommunications multinationals.

--Kristof Oberson, 22-Sep-2004

I think this is hysterical because its so true...Its not that the computer industry is so much bigger, but it is beginning to be unleashed. Movies...Well there are only so many ideas...people think they will be around forever...But they won't they are new...And a phase...Movies haven't even been out that long. With the end in sight...Who wouldn't move to computers..Its not in the money earned, its in the future. As far as getting "free shit" I don't think that's what was meant at all. I think really what was meant was...don't sell me crap.

--Mercubio, 22-Sep-2004

I don't think it's quite fair to compare the computer and the movie industry to begin with.

See, the movie industry is actulaly doing a half-decent job in moving into the next generation, by providing DVDs with lots of features and bright lights and whistles, and basically doing everything they can to actually motivate people to purchase the product.

Yet at the same time, the DVD industry is basically being ravaged, not by any sort of recognized piracy, but of the recognized practice of movie rentals and used DVD sales. I imagine that's taking a HUGE chunk out of their potential profits, even more than any percieved piracy would be doing.

The music industry, of course, is completly off course. By actually marketing LESS product instead of more, it's becoming an ego game where they believe that people are stupid enough to buy whatever they throw at them. On the other side, more quality movies are getting wider exposure because of the advent of the multi-plex.

--Karmakin, 22-Sep-2004


It's not a bold statement. It's humor. Look it up.

It was originally meant to be humorous (and I am very happy that people got it), but since some people seem to take it seriously, I had to spell out the fact that it is meant as a humorous piece. With serious undertones, though, I might add.

But if it fuels discussion, it's good. If it provides laughter to some people, it's good. And if it pisses off some people, there must be enough truth in it to be taken seriously.

--JanneJalkanen, 23-Sep-2004

I realize that you've probably got a huge boner because Doctorow linked to you

all the other script kiddies are blowing you via TrackBack

that doesn't mean you have any fucking clue as to what you're babbling about

As a web-savvy musician, I can tell you this: any digital downloading business whose founder can't engage in a debate without resorting to phrases like the above, isn't going to get my recommendation, or my money.

Either calm down, or go away. We don't need people like that in our corner.

I rather liked the post, it was funny.

--scottandrew, 23-Sep-2004

--Thomas Hawk, 23-Sep-2004

Very nice letter and good work.

If artists didn't get into bed with such sleazy and backwards thinking organizations as record labels and the RIAA and thought out of the box they would find many other solutions to getting paid. Recently the Pixies decided to sell live CDs after their shows to create income for example.


There are many ways for artists to create and be compensated in today's world without having to resort to hiding behind the entertainment industry and it's ugly cousings the MPAA and the RIAA.

I'm much happier to spend and exchange money for art directly with an artist than I am with an intermediary that keeps the vast majority of the money for itself and uses part of the profit to sue grandmothers and go after school kids.



--ThomasHawk, 23-Sep-2004

Thomas Hawks' comment crystallizes the problem: in the debate over copyright issues and 'freedom of information" debators consistently fail to make a distinction between the bloated, overwrought centralized media that foists Britney Spears upon all of us and deserves to be vanquished, and those artists, barely able to survive but through the retainment of their copyright. There is an incredible distinction to be made there, and yet both parties are cramped together as the 'fascists who don't want to let information be free'.

The intial post, which I glad was made as its sparked a good thread of exchange-- simply reminded me again of how many times well paid friends in the gaming and IT industries come down on me when I'm careful about retaining my copyright even when its all that keeps my from starving. I love that: they make 100k a year animating toothbrushes for TV and advocating that information should be free-- and critisize me even as I have agreed to poverty for my art.

--Kristof Oberson, 23-Sep-2004

Er, which industry is it that doesn't treat people like criminals? The computer game industry? The same computer game industry that makes me put the CD-ROM in my drive every time I want to play a game, even though it installed the entire contents to my hard drive already, just to prove I *have* the CD-ROM? Unless I want to go to one of those shady websites used by "criminals" to distribute no-CD keys, just so I don't have to tolerate this hassle to play a game for which I plunked down my hard-earned cash?

Just asking.

--, 23-Sep-2004

Oh Crap - here we go again. It's that tired old debate.

I'm a musician, and I've had a few (averagely successful) releases. I find myself strangely split over this article/letter/whatever.

Recording artists have been ripped off by labels since the beginning of time. They always get pitifully small slices of the proceeds from what they make (after a 50/50 split with the labels, -studio -promotion -etc etc). It's only a very small amount of people who actually make enough money to survive on. The only people in the music Biz who are overly bothered about P2P are the big Artists, because they have so much more to lose. Quite frankly, I don't care about them. It serves them (and their labels) right for ramming themselves down everyone's throat via every advertising medium possible - simultaneously blocking out all the talented people who can't even get a look in. I like P2P. I think it serves as a good promotional tool for upcoming artists.


JJ - I find your letter smug, dismissive and slightly repugnant. It's not about 'content producers' v 'geeks'. It's about record labels (for instance) learning that people still will pay for music, but not the extortionate amount they pay in the shops. And it's about making the labels actually contribute something positive to music downloading (all their work's been done for them so far by ITunes), instead of just throwing lawsuits at everyone.

In the meantime, JJ, next time you fire up your P2P app, have some respect for the people who make all those gigabytes of music which you fill your IPod up with, because it sounds like you don't have any at all from your letter. Without the content producers you'd have a very miserable life. Minesweeper anyone?

--RedLeader, 23-Sep-2004

Some of us told you that the future is going to be interactive - what did you do? You started to think how to make interactive movies (CD-I, anyone?), which is not what it really means, while we wrote games and tried to understand the new mediums, not how to bolt it on onto old things.

The two ideas have met in the middle. The interactive aspect of DVDs is so commanding that people will wait to buy Extended Editions of movies for the combination of flow control - "skip to scene 15, I have to go to bed soon" and extra footage to tailor the story. What is a game but a story you tailor? The convergence is so close that companies are selling Game DVDs. Using the traditional fast-forward rewind and play buttons everyone knows, you can play the game on your DVD player, or your DVD-aware console, or your DVD-aware computer, etc. Each group saw their own side of the same coin, the side they had trained themselves to see for years. In this mattter, bitching that the other side is wrong lacks any merit whatsoever. The convergence is growing so tight it soon will be nearly impossible to tell one side from the other. You will soon become them.

--john doe, 23-Sep-2004


" Movies haven't been out that long"...What? Only over 100 years.....

In response to the other comments....its the first rule of business....'Change or Die'.

--druidbros, 23-Sep-2004


I know this has no effect on anyone since they have already decided I'm evil, but I don't actually use P2P apps. I don't even own an iPod. Today I spent 70€ to buy legit DVDs, and the only music on my hard drive that I don't have an original CD for are those that I simply could not get anywhere else. I haven't pirated a game since I was 16.

But regardless - I would still rather give my money directly to the artists, and not support the rather dubious practices of MPAA, RIAA and other middlemen.

I have to say that I'm taking some perverse enjoyment in the fact that some people are so keen on attacking my person instead of trying to understand what I was trying to say, or trying to take apart one sentence, or trying to point out one false fact. It's as if a single mistake, or being a bad person in general, would completely invalidate everything I say. Most interesting :)

--JanneJalkanen, 24-Sep-2004


If I misunderstood you, I apologize. But as someone who constantly hears nonsense about how evil it is to want to be paid for one's work, you can imagine that I tend to react forcefully.

And I do believe that I offered a legitimate argument against your statement, in the middle of being a condescending asshole, for which I apologize.

--Joshua Ellis, 24-Sep-2004

Again, no one is making a distinction between the RIAA and simple lower class artists who license their copyrighted works in order to eat. This ditinction has to be made. The initial post, despite its humor, is about a topic that effects alot of people, and it has more complexity than most understand. Thats why its humor was lost.

--Kristof Oberson, 24-Sep-2004

Joshua: no harm done. I agree that people should be compensated fairly for what they do - it's just that I believe that the methods currently pursued to attempt to control the use of original material are completely flawed.

Kristof: True. That distinction is very important - perhaps I should write another post about it.

--JanneJalkanen, 24-Sep-2004

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