Prof Felten had a series of great posts post-Speed Bumps Conference. The first dichotomized speedbumps into two definitions; following that, Ernest suggested a slightly different separation. Let me explain and expand on Ernest’s suggestion, which is the way I have thought of speed bumps.
The larger category is actions and tools that, as Felten puts it, ”[try] to make illegal acquisition of content (via P2P, say) less convenient than the legitimate alternative.” To me, that’s just a general statement about “competing with free” – you make buying legit cheaper in terms of monetary and non-monetary costs.
As Ernest suggests, the speed bump approach is kind of a subset of that broad strategy. The speed bump approach is not about stopping all leakage onto P2P for a period of time. Rather, it is about making illegal acquisition significantly less convenient and more costly for the initial release period. It’s not that all people will be prevented from downloading over P2P; it’s that, to do so, they will have to wade through substantial obstructions for that period. The speed bump scenario, as I conceive it, imagines that the obstructions’ substantiality and the period make a meaningful difference for the affected industries. (One can also imagine this scenario in both terms, as Nesson and Hsia do here. I tend to think of only the latter as the scenario, because the former is really an extension of the status quo – using spoofing and DRM in an attempt to reduce P2P – rather than a new scenario).
Felten points out that DRM doesn’t seem a particularly good fit here. Once the file gets onto P2P, the DRM has no effect. But consider two other technologies typically associated with the speed bumps approach: spoofing and interdiction.
Spoofing’s effects can persist after the initial release period, as the spoof files still hang around the P2P directory. However, in the initial release period, before legit files have spread far and wide over P2P, the spoof files are more likely to outnumber the legit ones. Also, counterattacks are less likely to have been implemented effectively. People are less likely to have identified spoof files and either manually removed them from shared folders or designated them as spoof via a peer-rating system.
By slowing the spread and availability of legit files, interdiction can create an inconvenience during the initial release period. Interdiction’s impact can persist after the creation of one unencrypted copy, though it certainly degrades over time as legit copies spread and it becomes more costly to interdict more users.
When viewed with these technologies, DRM has a possible, but still uncertain, role. By limiting the initial number of uploaders, it increases the ratio of spoof to legit files and decreases the costs of interdiction by reducing the number of users who must be interdicted. Given the ease at which one can evade (through CD burning and reripping or the analog hole) or circumvent DRM, DRM may still have no impact.