Chuck D lays down the law on DRM

'Just a lot of fucked-up shit' says rapper on consumer experience of DRM
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Digital rights management (DRM) has its benefits, but should not overly restrict users, according to musician and mobile entrepreneur Chuck D.

The rapper, who was a founding member of hip hop group Public Enemy and now runs a content service, told delegates at the Mobile Content World conference in London that he had always looked at technology as "something you can apply to a better world if you stay on top of it and don't let it stay on top of you".

"[Napster founder] Shawn Fanning revolutionised the way we get music — he doesn't get the respect he deserves even today," said Chuck D on Tuesday.

He said he does "believe in some sort of DRM" but pointed out that MP3 was the most popular compression format because it does not limit how the customer can use the file once bought.

"You've got artists who are just starting out who are understanding that DRM is a way of life," Chuck D said, adding that musicians "understand it doesn't have to be the Pirates of Penzance as it was", a reference to the free-for-all early days of Napster and similar P2P engines.

The issue of DRM has become increasingly contentious with the growth of new media distribution services. Some see it as a way to protect the intellectual property of content creators, while others see it as unnecessary infringement by distributors on the rights of the consumer.

Speaking to ZDNet UK after his presentation, Chuck D described the current situation with DRM as "just a lot of fucked-up shit".

"It has to get to a point where it works for everyone — sometimes people can't share or burn their own CD," he said. He suggested that a solution may lie in a universal media format but said that development was "impossible right now".

Asked for his opinion on FairUse4WM, the anti-DRM Windows Media crack that recently caused the suspension of Sky's online movie service, Chuck D said he was "always going to tip [his] hat to the rebels".

He also expressed scepticism about the purchase this year of MySpace by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, indicating that it may eventually make the portal less effective in promoting new artists.

"The problem with corporations is they come into any business with a gold-rush mentality of making a killing and there's a difference between making a killing and making a living," he said, warning that "people in the back of their minds think the free reign [of sites such as MySpace and YouTube] is going to be taken away and collapse because it's too good to be true".

Chuck D Mobile was launched earlier this year to offer a range of ringtones, videos and other hip-hop-related content for mobile phones. According to the rapper, he had "gotten wary of delivering my content to middlemen" and saw mobile technology as the most effective way to "expand an art form and genre" in urban areas around the world.

The venture is not Chuck D's first into digital distribution — his Slamjamz online record label was launched in 1996 and continues to release albums, while his Rapstation.com web portal offers free MP3 downloads.

A global Anti-DRM Day has been scheduled for 3 October by DefectiveByDesign.org, a subset of the Free Software Foundation.

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