Why your music collections will bite the DRM dust

Summary:I was really glad to see Dave Winer say that, in his opinion, the problems that he and other people are having with their iPods and iTunes are DRM-related.  Dave: It is the real culprit and your issues are real evidence of why the "R" in DRM stands for "restrictions" and not "rights.

I was really glad to see Dave Winer say that, in his opinion, the problems that he and other people are having with their iPods and iTunes are DRM-related.  Dave: It is the real culprit and your issues are real evidence of why the "R" in DRM stands for "restrictions" and not "rights."  This is why, if you look at the category list on the right side of this blog, you'll see the category name for where this scourge gets all of our coverage is Digital Restrictions Management.  They (the proverbial "they"), can't implement technologies like FairPlay without introducing all sorts of side effects that we're expected to accept and simply live with. 

I liked the bit about how it's the user's own damn fault if they don't back up their systems. Perhaps this is a good time for me to remind everyone that, at least in one DRM scheme (Microsoft's), allowing such backups (of licensed content) is an option selected by the content provider.  Not the buyer.  In other words, depending on who the content publisher is, you may not even be able to backup your DRM'd content.  Read my trainwreck piece for more details.

Want more dumb side effects?  Here's two brainteasers for you.  How do you:

  • Buy someone a specific song through an online music store the way you might buy someone a CD? You can't and pretty soon, once CDs are gone (and they will be), we won't be able to buy each other music (you can and will be able to buy gift certificates to online music stores.... but how impersonal is that?)
  • Down the road, when there are no more CDs and all music is bought online, pass your life's music collection onto someone else when you die (the way you can LPs and CDs today)? You can't. 

Just a couple of other nice gotchas.  Yes, the problems are 100 percent DRM connected.

Today, I heard on NPR that Elliot Spitzer is investigating  the big three record labels for collusion.  In response According to NPR Marketplace reporter Janet Babin, the labels are apparently complaining that Apple won't budge on its 99 cent music pricing or come up with some sort of variable pricing for different types of music (new vs. old, dogs vs. hits, etc.).  What does that tell us about Apple and the control it currently exerts over the distribution channel? Is it a monopoly yet? If not, what test must it past to be considered one? As I've written already, I think the company is behaving monopolistically (it's apparently refusing to license its Fairplay DRM technology to other vendors like Sonos). 

At what point does Apple's DRM strategy and chokehold on the entertainment industry constitute a tying violation that trustbusters must pay attention to?  Given all the trouble DRM is causing, this seems to me to be a bigger fish for Spitzer to fry than the one about collusion.  If Apple is monopolizing the digital music distribution channel (and judging by the way the record labels are whining, it does), then, is it a tying violation if Apple's technology is required to get at all that digital music? Particularly if Apple is refusing to license it to competitors (a.k.a. foreclosing on competition)?

Topics: Legal

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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