Why your music collections will bite the DRM dust

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)?

Topic: Legal

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  • I agree on your take on the DRM

    Most of the crap they call music today isn't worth preserving. What I'd like to know is how does the Library of Congress deal with this issue?

    Yes they have a special dispensation but physically how do they preserve today's music in a form that doesn't require DRM BS or prevent loosing the music because somebody in the future goes bankrupt taking their technology with them?
    • Library of Congress archives

      music the old fashioned way - presses it to vinyl. With proper care
      it's extremely durable and has a near infinite shelf life. If we are
      bombed back to the stone age humans should be able to make old
      victrola type players that will work even w/o electricity. Your tax
      dollars at work :-)
  • Rights 10.0

    You're very right George. The problem is how far record labels are taking these so-called rights that they're managing. This isn't about protecting the producers (the artists). It's about the record labels who say they're protecting their rights (their copyrights, not the artists'). But in the course of doing so, they're redefining what rights they have. For example, making it so you have to buy the music multiple times if you want to play it on more than one device. Or making it so you can't inherit my music collection. By extending their own "rights" and managing those extended rights through technology, the number of things that we can do with the content we pay our good money for (things that we want to do just for ourselves) has become far more restricted than I think anybody imagined. Consider all the technology and legislation being put into place to close the so called analog hole. Nice. So, now the law is going to make all my existing entertainment gear obsolete because it takes an analog vs. a digital signal? Of course the entertainment industry will gladly support the shutdown of all analog signalling. We the sheeple. We're going to wake up to a very scary world one day and when we get there, everyone is going to be asking... how the hell did we let this happen. It starts with people buying off on the idea that what the record labels are doing today are about protecting someone's rights. We're way beyond protecting their rights at this point. This is new, very greedy territory. Even for them.

    • I definitely agree with you there

      Yes, they are redefining their rights and offsetting the balance of power. The transfer of music is definitely a big problem.

      Shutting down analog signaling is just plain stupid. There are easier/better ways of pirating content in the digital world and all they're doing is punish the honest users.
      • They are not really redefining their rights

        The music industry is not really redefining their rights. They are just exercising rights that were given to them YEARS ago, and now that online music and the internet has made trading music illegally so easy, they are starting to clamp down and exercise their rights.
        • Not Exaclty Correct

          this statement (the music industry is "exercising rights given to them years ago") isn't exactly correct. for example, we (the consumers) have the right to make back-up copies to protect an investment from loss/theft. drm can prevent that, if the music industry wishes (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, based on the whims of the music industry). also, we have the right (this one is specifically stated in law!) to sell or give away our purchases, which again the music industry has placed limits on (in this case, in conjunction with the online music purveyors).

          the music industry also wishes to profit from format/media changes. that is, with drm they can force music buyers to repurchase their previously purchased and legally licensed collections as technical progress occurs. if you're my age (56) you can remember buying music on lp's, then eight tracks, then cassettes, then cd's, and perhaps even now digitally (although those old cd's aren't drm'd and can be legally ripped for my personal use ;-).

          also, the music industry has a "have their cake and eat it too, attitude". for example, if i run a dj business and play music for local school dances, in this state i must pay the annual business property taxes on the music i "own". at that point (payment of taxes), the music (and software!) industries are perfectly delighted to say my license is more like ownership.

          finally, if i buy only a license to play the music, then why must the material possesion be maintainted? if someone steals my creative zen micro with all of its drm'd music*, the industry will tell me to claim against my insurance. why? was the intangible license somehow stolen? no way! the music industry just wants to profit from my loss. i can see a modest service charge to restore my collection, but not making me pay for the entire thing as if i was never licensed to use it.

          *that's pure fiction--i wouldn't really own a drm product, period. long live mp3's!

          mark d.
          • Agree, but...

            Hi, Mark.

            I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but as to backups: Which services do you know that don't allow backups to CDs? As far as I know, most of the major ones allow you to burn the music once you buy it.

            As far as the death of CDs goes:

            I realize I might be in the vast majority here, but I say, "Good riddance to bad rubbish!". CD's have been the bane of my existence almost since their introduction. I remember way back when, and they were touted as being much better than LP's (if anyone remembers those!) because they were "scratch-resistant". Well, I've go to tell you, I've got a lot of CDs, and scratch-resistant, they're not. You can argue whether they're better or worse in that arena than LPs (although I don't think anyone would want to drag a needle across their CD's anytime soon, but they are very much more fragile than other media now available. And don't even get me started on how much space they take up! Is there any less-efficient modern media to hold 640MB than on a CD??

            Granted, that other media (and I'm thinking flash cards here, mostly) doesn't come as cheaply as CDs, but that's guaranteed to change in the not-distant future.

            I would gladly pay $20 per album if it came on a medium that was truly rugged. I could, for example, picture a 800MB-1GB USB key that plugged into a digital player. That would solve the problem of passing the music on right there (although you wouldn't be able to keep your own copy, unless the player had some way to securely offload the music).

            DRM is a major pain in the neck as it stands, and definitely needs to be liberalized, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. CD-less music is the wave of the future, once it's done right.
          • Correction

            Uh, I meant "vast minority"! :)
        • Here's a clue

          Do a Google search on the phrase "Fair Use Rights".
          tic swayback
    • Hmmmm, sounds like

      Microsoft Windows all over again "buy the music (OS) multiple times if you want to play it on more than one device". With radio, music channels on cable, and Sirius, I can live without buying music.
      Middle of the Road
      • MS sold WinXP once in 5 years

        You got SP1 and SP2 for free. In that same period of time, Apple sold 4 versions of OS X. Redhat probably sold multiple versions of Linux.
        • but you have to purchase an individual license for every pc install

          I think that is what he is referring to, if you get a assemblage of parts you have to purchase a retail box of XP to legally run it - or get a linux distro ;)
      • How is a pay service like Sirius or cable not buying ...

        ... your music?
        • Exactly!

          But people like No_axe would disagree with you.

          You pay by listening to comericials or paying to not have the comercials. Recording the songs or even movies is fair use. After all you've already paid for them.

          I think it's more like I'm not buying CDs maybe that's what they mean. Or I'm not buying DRM music.
      • That's pretty cheap...

        They sell you some pretty powerful software for each individual machine.

        Otherwise, you end up installing it on 100+ computers in a year: bring it to work and install it there, then give it to every person you've ever met.

        That's not fair.

        They make a good OS and sell it for each license. Just as you, if you had that technology and made an OS, would you give it away? (no)
      • Odd that

        If you think of it like this. I can copy a CD legally and to play in my car while playing it in my home. I can't do that with Windows XP though.


        The license you have to agree to install the OS is upon install. Licenses are how copyright holders authorize copying. So what if I decide to not use thier authorization (aka license agreement) and use fair use instead. The same fair use I use to copy a CD of music to play in my car. Technically that would be legal wouldn't it?

        I've never thought of software that way.
    • New digital music model

      Digital music would be provided free but every song you
      downloaded would be accompanied by some sort of advertisement
      that you would have to at least look at or listen to. then the music
      would be free for the individual to do with as he pleases. The music
      would be of limited but decent quality (128k?). The artists would
      make money off the advertising and if they are really good artists
      off their live concert tours, sponsorships and endorsements as well.
      We could cut out the RIAA and all the middle men giving the artists
      and the music distributers larger portions of the take.
    • What??? Your not cheering the pirates on anymore?

      Imagine that...
  • Message has been deleted.

    • I have saved a copy...

      ... of the Talkback listings.

      Whatever you said, Mr. Berlind, I would have forgiven you and let the post live.

      The tolerant spirit of the season seems not to have reached ZDNet.
      Anton Philidor