Tuesday, March 14, 2006

DRM music

Engadget recently had a post about French law and DRM. I wrote a seriously long comment about DRM whoch I posted here. For those of you who don't know, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It means that when you buy (most) music online you cannot play it on an incompatable player. Here's my post:

OK, you buy a legal DVD of some film. You play it in your living room, then get tired and finish watching it in your bedroom on your DVD player up there. This is perfectly legal in (hopefully) just about any country in the world. If you think this isn't fair use then I think you may have a problem.

What if you're listening to an album you bought from Yahoo music, iTunes or whatever on your computer. You then realise you have to go out for a bit so you put the music on your MP3 player. With DRM'd music you cannot do this (unless you choose to let 1 company rule your life until you never want to listen to that album again).

Here DRM is stopping fair use. It is pretty good at it too. I could break the DRM, which isn't difficult to do but does take time. The legality of breaking DRM isn't too great under the DMCA or EUCD either.

I choose not to buy DRM'd music, burn to a (virtual) CD (which some DRM doesn't let you do anyway), then rip back.

Instead of buying the DRM'd music I have 4 options. Firstly I can buy the CD. This means going into town and paying for some of the tracks on the album I don't want. I do this sometimes but not very much.

Secondly I can choose not to listen to music at all. I don't like that option.

Another option is only buying music online in MP3 from sites like magnatune or emusic, or listening to free CC music. This is what I would do but it is not possible for me to listen to many popular artists this way (even if I want to pay). This would become very popular if DRM didn't exist. I'd definitely buy a lot more music.

The only way I can get MP3s of the music I want without having to encode a CD (bought or burnt from DRM) is currently illegally. That means piracy. That means they lost a sale. That means artists like Britney Spears and Eminem get no money and starve. To be honest (no offence to you Britney or Eminem if you're reading this) I don't care.

I have quick searches in Firefox for the pirate bay and isohunt. I can get virtually any album I want in a few minutes.

DRM has stopped me from paying many artists. I do sometimes buy CDs of music I've downloaded if I want to support the artist.

What I'd like to see is artists offering MP3s for sale. They could also have a donate button on their websites for people who got the MP3s illegally but want to support the artist.

To summarise: DRM doesn't stop piracy, it just stops fair use. It is a tool used by distributors to deny ownership to the consumer after they have paid for a product.
Update: Mike has put a post about DRM on his blog. Add a comment to it saying why DRM is bad for the consumer!


Michael said...

WOW! That was an utter load of bollocks if ever I saw anyway (!).

First up the problem with DRM is Apple, as they use some weird DRM whereas everyone else uses WMA DRM (and I mean everyone). All this means you have to do is change your player from iTunes. which doesn't play the WMA DRM's and switch to Winamp, which you currently use anyway. Winamp is FREE and plays the WMA DRM. I am listening to some now in all their DRM'd glory.

If you get Napster To Go with a MP3 player that supports it then you can get unlimited music for £14.99 a month. Which is taste central.

In terms of not paying artists just imagine if you were an artist, not a Britney but a newbie. Not as popular. You need every penny you get and everyone is illegally downloading your music or stealing it (call it what you will) so your record doesn't fly off the shelves or off Napster's virtual shelves. And you go back to your ordinary life with no parties and no fun and now you ar doing some lame job taking in just £6 an hour. How would that feel? Indeed. It would be crap.

The reason no one does free MP3's with a deposit function is that no one or only a few would deposit and it is easier to make money via CD's and DRM'd music.

Even if you do buy music you are still contributing to the illegal music scene by downloading. And then you will think Oh I don't like tracks 3,6,7 and 12 so I won't buy the album! So you end up buying 1 album out about of every 100 you listen to. I actually can't remember the last CD you bought?

David Hulbert said...

Nice reply! Keep 'em coming.

So should everyone use MS DRM? That means MS has control over all your music. They can change Windows to do what ever they want with your music. I don't like MS having that control over my life. If MS forced me to upgrade to Vista when it came out I'd probably change to some Linux distro. If all my music was WMA files with MS DRM then if MS forced me to upgrade then I'd loose all the music I'd paid for. Scaryness.

Winamp is very good. Unfortunately my MP3 player wont play encrypted WMAs. MS are forcing me to pay more money to get a better MP3 player (from a company which has had to pay the monopoly for a licence to decrypt its files). Also, I couldn't play them on Linux or ph phone. WinAmp can play them coz it either uses the built in Windows decrypting thing or pays MS a fee.

An open DRM would be ver cool. Free to implement by any company. That way it wouldn't be one company in control of the whole worlds music.

Napster To Go + a WMA player which supports it would be good. Tho it'd mean buying a (marginally) more expensive player and not having the freedom to change to a different music service. What if Napster start charging £30 instead? You loose the music you rented. What if company X start a £10 service? You don't have the freedom of switching without loosing the music.

I appreciate artists need money. What would be really good is if you could pay the artist directly and not Sony BMG, EMI or Universal. The RIAA and BPI are huge companys with large operating expenses. If they didn't exist then artists could get a much bigger cut of the sale.

I'm not saying artists should do free MP3s. If iTunes or Napster did MP3s then I'd probably buy some.

What they should do is let you pay for MP3s. I'm going to get MP3s no matter what - there'll always be pirates. It's in their interest to let people pay for that.

What's wrong with contributing to the illegal music scene by downloading an album then paying for it?

The last album I bought was The Album Vol.5 about 2 weeks ago.

I'm all for paying for music. What I don't like is not being able to pay for music inthe most widely avaliable format (MP3).

Michael said...

This is the technological revolution my friend. You could also argue that you lost out when DVD hit the scene as you lost the usefulness of all your vid's. Thats life and don't think it won't happen with Blu-Ray or HD-DVD or the other wannabes when companies only start realising films on the new format....

And as for MS. They ain't going anyway but I wouldn't worry as there will always be some program available to play DRM files in. The reason that everyone uses WMA is that it is simpler than Creative, Samsung etc all having their own formats.

Companies are already predicting that software will be distributed online only in the next 5-10 years and that is no different with music. If you don't like DRM when you have a choice you are going to hate it when there is no choice.

David Hulbert said...

I can keep my VHS player for as long as I want. I can also keep my DVD player. Can you keep all your WMAs if Napster or MS stop you? I think not.

Programs to play DRM have to either use Windows DRM or get a licence. That's why you can't play DRMd WMA files on Linux or Mac (unless MS realease their own player for that OS). MS DRM means all of your music is in Microsofts hands. If you're always going to have windows and that same WMA player then that's fine. Personally, I like freedom.

I agree that having many formats is silly. But why not have an open format if companies still insist of renting music? One that is continually developed by many users and which any company can use without having to go by MS first?

"If you don't like DRM when you have a choice you are going to hate it when there is no choice."
Record companies and greedy artists want us to believe we have no choice. I think there'll always be a choice. A few legal choices:

And a few illegal ones:
Any so many more...

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