Frogs in hot water

Friday, 18 Jan 2008

Jerry Holkins (alias Tycho):

Divx players could play DVDs, but they could also play Divx discs, which were promoted as a something between a rental and a true purchase. The discs themselves were cheap, and allowed for the viewing of the film in a 48 hour period once you started it. You could then unlock the disc permanently for an additional “purchase” fee that took into account what you had already paid. The strangest part about it was probably the modem – yes, a modem – that it used to manage its DRM. I don’t think we were using the term DRM in 1998, but that’s how we would have described it. Divx was at the center of the first real flamewar I had seen online, citing things [like] privacy concerns and the limitations it placed on the consumption of media. I’m not sure it was ever going to work. The idea that you could never really own these discs was a strong point of contention, but even with a DVD (called “Open DVD” by advocates at the time) your ownership isn’t exactly absolute.

It may be that some people are really excited by devices like the Apple TV, certainly the device has seen improvements, but whenever Steve Jobs starts talking about this thing I go instantly into a coma. The duration of this coma is exactly the length of time that he discusses it, and once he moves on to something that is useful or important I am rejuvenated. It is funny, or perhaps sad, but the almost universally reviled Divx format was actually more lenient than today’s digital downloads. The partial, limited-use, occluded ownership of the iTunes model is now so engrained that these rentals can be worse than bad, and no one remembers.

I remember those things. I remember the vociferous resistance. But I had completely forgotten about them. Now, it falls upon a webcomic deliver the most lucid criticism anywhere on the web of a new media product.

How times have changed.