» September 2008
» DRM Evilness
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09/29/2008: "DRM Evilness"
As a musician, I've never had much of a problem with the idea of paying for digital downloads, and having their distribution somehow being restricted. With DRM (Digital Rights Management) comes complications such as burn limits, authorizing computers/accounts and a limited range of compatible players.
However, the most dangerous is possibility of losing all your music if the company you bought your Rights-Managed music through decides to shut down their DRM server that regulates all the hassles that
manages all the other things that are, at best, a minor hassle (and almost always have a work-around).
Today there comes news of yet another of DRM server being shut down by a major online music retailer: Wal-Mart. What does this mean to you? Probably nothing. Most of the people who read this site use Macs, and the files affected are WMA files, but let's assume for a second that you use Windows and bought your music from Wal-Mart. So, what happens? You need to burn all of your music to CDs as Audio files, then re-import them as MP3s (which, according to the DMCA is illegal). And if you don't? They'll all go kaput on October 9th.
And, by Kaput, I mean, they'll stop playing on your computer, and they'll disappear the next time you plug in your compatible portable player. In order to play (or transfer) them your music player queries the DRM server for a thumbs-up before the first note starts playing. If that server isn't there, the software won't play the file.
Why is this interesting? Well, for a few reasons.
One: The record industry is backing down on the DRM thing a little bit, allowing places like Amazon and WalMart (and iTunes to a smaller degree) to sell DRM-Free files. Really, they are the ones who saddled us with this albatross in the first place, not the retailers.
Two: Wal-Mart made a big deal out of selling songs for 88¢...and as it turns out, if you were lured to use their online store instead of the marginally more expensive iTunes, you get rewarded by them revoking your right to the song you "bought."
Three: I hear a lot of complaints about iTunes' DRM. But you know what you don't hear? Apple shutting the DRM servers down and sticking you with a bunch of worthless crap/revoking your license to the music you already bought.
Four: None of the DRM-FRee online music stores have all the artists (usually the most popular or historically bankable) that iTunes does, and it seems obvious to me that it's a ploy to try and squeeze a little extra money out of the people who absolutely HAVE to have this stuff and don't care about DRM until it bites them in the ass. So, although people will complain about iTunes having DRM at all (most notably vocal is Steve Jobs himself), it looks like the best balance of Managed and Not-Managed to actually get what we want from the record companies.
Of course, you could always buy CDs, rip the MP3s, and then sell the CDs to someone like Half Price Books or Record & Tape Traders. That way there is no DRM, you get to pick the encoding quality, and you get all the ID3 info from GraceNote. Oh yeah, but you are gonna pay twice as much. ;-)