Tuesday, March 13, 2007

DRM on Independent Content

About a week ago, I read a post by Kumaran on the reasons for DRM on independent content. He goes into some detail of the debate and outlines his stance as that independent music that could be non-DRM should be kept DRM’ed to avoid confusion with the Apple users. His opinion is largely based on small labels and if a major label does switch over to non-DRM music he believes that apple should go ahead and draw the distinction between DRM and non-DRM music to pressure other labels:

“An entire major music label's catalog of music on iTunes in a non-DRM'ed format is a significant enough of chunk of music that I think would cover enough people's music purchases to make it worth it. Of course, people will still probably get frustrated, but such a move would be made moreso to pressure the other labels into following suit.”

Digital Rights Management

In the context of the iTunes Store, DRM means that there are some restrictions on the way music can be used. Basically, the music can be copied to an unlimited number of CDs or iPods, but the digital version must always stay in a proprietary format compatible with iPods. Also, the digital version has some other restrictions on it (like only being playable on 5 computers, etc.). In the end, DRM in general give minor problems to the users, and do nothing against pirates. Pirates are still able to copy music to a CD (thus stripping DRM) and then from a CD to mp3 and distribute. However, DRM can not simply be exterminated, because Big Music backs DRM.


Gruber’s Solution

In a blog post, John Gruber proposes that iTunes could label DRM and non-DRM music much like it does with explicit and non-explicit music. By introducing a simple tag to the left of a song title, the confusion between the two rights could easily be avoided. Kumaran counters with:

“Yes, such a point is valid, however, the difference between DRM'ed and non-DRM'ed content is far more significant than the difference between Explicit and Clean content. Explicit and Clean content can pretty much be used in much the same way. That situation just isn't possible with DRM'ed and non-DRM'ed content being sold at the same location.”

DRM’ed and non-DRM’ed music can also be used in the same way… listened to. DRM or non-DRM does not change how a normal user (non-pirate) uses music. Either way, they get their song, put it on their iPod and enjoy listening to it. The only thing that is affected is the subtleties of sharing. Most users already deal with these differences due to the fact that they don’t buy all their music from iTunes but download some from limewire or indie sites like www.3hive.com . From Steve Jobs’ thoughts on Music:

“under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM.”

This slight sharing difference is much simpler than some more significant music differences users’ deal with. Some of their music is in mp3, some in wav, some in Apple’s aac, some in other formats (ogg anyone?). Some music is 8bit, some 16bit, and myriad other differences. I think it is naïve to think that iPod users will be confused or frustrated by the presence of non-DRM music in the iTunes Store.

To add extra motivation for supporting the difference between DRM and non-DRM music one has to consider the pressure of DRM labeling and artists opinions. Some artists pride themselves on the fact that their music is not part of the corporate system of mainstream music. Some bands enjoy their music being non-DRM and would like to see it that way on iTunes, so their fans can get their songs and share them any way they like. Also, by introducing a distinction between DRM and non-DRM music Apple can collect data and what music users prefer. Then they can turn to the big companies and start talking in their language of money but simply bringing up stats and saying: “look small label X made twice the money as equivalent small label Y by selling non-DRM music”. Maybe then Big Music would listen.

I think the reason Apple is really continuing to sell all their music as DRM is to hold on to their proprietary rights. Regardless of what Steve Jobs publishes as “his opinions” on DRM music, Apple is still a heartless capitalist corporation. By sticking to DRM, they make sure people can only easily listen to the music on their iPods and not competitors. This way iTunes Store and iPod become a bundle and exclusive “cool” society that other more open MP3 users can’t join.

Other Solution

The easiest way for users to easily see the difference between DRM music and non-DRM music is to just offer them in two different, popular formats. Continue to offer DRM’ed music in aac and offer non-DRM in the more common mp3 format. However, Apple would never do that… how would that continue their obscene profit margins? This might actually be civil.

Summary

DRM is independent content is wrong. If the independent content wants to be DRM free, then let them be. For the end user everything is the same, but the provider of content can sleep a little better at night, knowing they are not part of Big Music’s capitalist machine.

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3 Comments:

Blogger dino said...

Quick correction
Basically, the music can be copied to an unlimited number of CDs or iPods

The music can only be burned 7 times in one playlist.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Devil From Russia said...

Then can't you put it in a different playlist and burn it some more? But ya, whatever I forgot I ment to be caught in the "other restrictions part".

12:33 AM  
Blogger dino said...

Well, yeah, you can just drag a song out or put a song in and you'll get another 7 burns.

6:24 PM  

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