What would be the impact of DRM-free music?

What would be the impact of DRM-free music?

Summary: Wwhat impact would a DRM-free music industry have on the music industry and piracy, as well as on those who listen to music?


Last week Apple's Steve Jobs called on the record industry to drop DRM and adopt a more open approach to the distribution of music.  Then rumors started to circulate that EMI was in talks with Snocap, a company founded by Napster creator Shawn Fanning, to release music in MP3 format on MySpace.  But what impact would a DRM-free music industry have on the music industry and piracy, as well as on those who listen to music?

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Personally. I don't think that issues surrounding DRM are as clear-cut as the media make out.  I'm certain that the feeling here on ZDNet amongst the readers is that DRM is evil and should be eradicated.  However, if you go to a wider audience I'm certain there is a real blind spot where it comes to DRM.  To most people, the fact that they music is locked up or tied to a particular system isn't something that they are aware of.  People with only one PC (and there are a lot of them out there) just don't see many of the problems that DRM introduce.  They can play their music on their PC and move it to a portable device.  I've come across a number of people who have lost DRM-protected music because of a system crash who believe that they did something wrong or that it's normal to lose everything when the system crashes.

And that's the problem.  Outside of a small circle of techie or geek users, there's isn't a real understanding of what DRM is, which means that as a whole, consumers don't really care about the issues (in much the same way that there's a huge browser apathy which leads to big companies such as Wal-Mart’s download site, choosing to support only one browser, usually Internet Explorer).

So, what effects would having no DRM on music have?  Here's my view:

  • Effect on the music industry:
    I think that while the music industry would fuss about losses due to piracy – and while I have no doubt that there are losses, I'm certain that these are small and akin to the kind of shop-lifting losses that any bricks-and-mortar store has to shoulder – the true effect would be pretty small.
  • Effects on piracy:
    Despite making use of DRM and having herds of lawyers on a retainer, piracy exists and you can find and download pretty much anything you want right now.  Doing away with DRM would remove the ripping the CD step out of the piracy workflow, but that's no major hassle for any determined pirate.
  • Effects on those listening to music:
    Again, I think that the effects would be negligible.  It would be harder to lose music as a result of a system crash and easier to share music between different devices but I don't see this turning everyone into a pirate.  I wish that the recoding industry would have more respect for their customers than to think that everyone is a potential thief. 

If the recording industry does actually decide to drop DRM, I think that they'll start off by releasing other older, less popular stuff (from a commercial perspective) without DRM.  Over time the studios might realize that we're not all thieves.


Topic: Legal

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  • DRM ony hurts norma peope

    DRM only keeps normal people from using their music fully. Any geek can break any DRM.
    • Most people don't notice DRM

      Average Joe doesn't notice DRM. If DRM gets in the way it takes all of 2 seconds to find the same song on a an Illegal P2P service and they grab that. They do this with full justification that paid for the songs. After that DRM is forgotten about.
  • You missed a major effect

    On you number 3 effect to consumers you missed the biggest point of all. That point is DRM isn't free. It comes at a cost paid by the content creators that is passed on to the consumer. Every DRM scheme that fails is replaced with a new scheme that costs more money and that too is passed on to the consumer. If DRM is done away with the potential saving to be passed on to the consumer exist. Of course maybe that will never happen, the music industry is know for it's greed but if they want to compete with pirated music stripping DRM and using the money to add incentives to buy from legit sites would go a long ways and that's something the consumer will notice.
  • Why speculate?

    The vast majority of music today is sold DRM-free. Things would continue as they are now, although there would be more incentive to buy downloads, rather than CD's. Good for the industry due to lower costs (no manufacturing, distribution), and good for the consumer as those lower costs should be passed on.
    tic swayback
  • Ripping a song

    Ripping a song won't stop, using software to get it free won't slowdown.....but
    shouldn't we atleast have the music industry provide a better means for us to give
    them our wallets besides the RIAA?.

    Oh, and I think the author should try to DL a spell checker. Sheesh man that was
    hard to read with that many errors.
  • Companies like Sony wouldn't be liable for $150+ per rootkit.

    Users wouldn't suffer from the increased security risks from flawed DRM.

    Users would still be able to do things with their music that the US Supreme Court has previously ruled to be legal without having to download the music.

    The costs of making music (from the label's view) would go down. Since retail prices wouldn't go down, that means more profits for the labels.

    Other than that, not much visible impact.
  • A good business model.

    I think you just stumbled on a good business model for DRM free music downloads.

    Buy from an authorized download site and the content providers will maintain a database of the songs you have downloaded. (They will do this anyway for marketing analytics so it costs them nothing.) If you lose any content purchased through these authorized sites due to system crashes and they will replace it free.

    Now there is an incentive to purchase content instead of pirating it. Carrot instead of a stick.
  • How about, "What would be the impact of no DMCA?"

    - no DVD region coding

    - DVD player manufacturers could compete on features their customers want, not what the MPAA will allow

    - Many more and cheaper solutions for movie and music jukebox servers for the home

    - same as above because free sotware is not shut out

    - lower bar to entry for equipment manufacturers and services, more competition/innovation

    One thing not impacted by no DMCA:

    - Piracy

    none none
  • DRM is a failed experiment

    DRM does absolutely nothing to stop pirating.

    It's better to give people a pleasurable experience than to worry too much about profits. That's why companies like Fry's Electronics allow returns to the store - because it keeps the customer happy, and they will end up coming to the store more often. That is a lesson music executives need to learn.