If you despise Digital Rights Management technology (DRM) the way I do, then here's an opportunity to vote with your dollars for a DRM-free world. In partnership with MusicNet, Yahoo! -- a company whose online music services are normally associated with Microsoft's DRM technology -- is selling personalized downloadable MP3-based versions of Jessica Simpson's song A Public Affair for $1.99. That's right. It's MP3-based. In other words, no DRM (or what I often refer to as C.R.A.P.; see CRAP, The Movie and CRAP, The Sequel). The implication is that there will be no proprietary DRM technologies standing in the way of you putting the music on whatever devices you want to put it on. In contrast, when music or videos are saddled with Apple's CRAP or Microsoft's CRAP, then that content will only work on the devices that Apple and Microsoft approve it to work on. For example, a song saddled with Microsoft's CRAP won't play on an Apple iPod.
"We've been publicly trying to convince record labels that they should be selling MP3s for a while now," writes Yahoo Music blogger Ian Rogers. "DRM has a cost. It's very expensive for companies like Yahoo to implement. We'd much rather have our engineers building better personalization, recommendations, playlisting applications, community apps, etc., instead of complex provisioning systems which at the end of the day allow you to burn a CD and take the DRM back off, anyway."
But just because the file is in MP3 format doesn't mean that you're not legally bound to safeguard it from copyright abuse. There are several stipulations in Yahoo's Terms of Service that are worth noting:
(i) You may burn each playlist of Permanent Downloads to a CD up to seven times as part of any particular playlist of songs. A "playlist" is a discrete group of Permanent Downloads that are arranged together in a particular order. You may burn a single Permanent Download to a CD or a device an unlimited number of times. Once you have burned a Permanent Download to a CD, you agree not to copy, distribute, or transfer the track from that CD to any other media or device. You may copy each Permanent Download to up to five personal computers. You may transfer a Permanent Download an unlimited number of times to compatible portable devices that adhere to the Usage Rules and security requirements. Once you have transferred a Permanent Download to a compatible portable device, you agree not to copy, distribute, or transfer it from that device to any other media or device.
(ii) MP3 Downloads. MP3 Downloads are only for your personal, non-commercial use and are non-transferable (except as otherwise expressly authorized by Yahoo). FILE SHARING IS ILLEGAL AND A VIOLATION OF THESE TERMS OF SERVICE.
These are definitely terms that I can live with. Now, I'm not a big Jessica Simpson fan. Actually, I'm not one at all. But that didn't stop me from plopping down a $1.99 just to send Yahoo! a clear message that I'm 100 percent behind its move to sell music that's I can play on any device including my high-end whole home audio system which doesn't support any DRM scheme.
So what happened when I made the purchase? The process starts at Yahoo's JessicaForYou page where you get to pick from a list of names that can be mashed up into the song. I picked "David." If I was a Jessica Simpson fan, I could see how I'd be more interested in spending the $1.99 on a version of the song with my name in it than I would in illegally downloading the song without such a personalization from some filesharing service. Yahoo does force you to get an ID on its systems and input a significant amount of personal information (and I wonder how this may come back to haunt my email or US Postal Service inboxes later). Once I was done buying the song with my credit card, getting the song was just like downloading any other file. My browser's dialog gave me the choice of saving the file or playing it back. I picked save and within seconds, I had a free and clear personalized MP3 of Jessica Simpson on my hard drive. On the personalization front, at 1:02 into the song, Simpson (or someone) can be heard singing:
I see you looking over here
Are you gonna keep looking or get up?
I'll tell you what. If Yahoo or any other service starts to make un-DRM'd MP3's from my favorite artists available on a larger scale, I will be getting up --- to take my wallet out.
Update: At my request, a friend purchased the same exact personalized download that I did and then I performed a low-level byte-by-byte comparison of the two resulting files using DOS' FC /b (file compare, binary) command. The purpose of this test was to double check the files for watermarks. Watermarks are essentially fingerprints and there are several companies experimenting with watermarking technology in such a way that every downloadable file comes with a unique fingerprint or watermark that's associated with the identity of the buyer. Such a fingerprint makes it possible for the content seller to trace illegal copies of a file back to the original owner. If the files contained watermarks, then a binary comparison of them would report that the two files are not the same. In this case, the binary comparison revealed that the two files are carbon copies of each other thereby suggesting no watermarks.