The Silliness of DRM

I’ve been absent here for a while because of final exams. My penultimate term of 5 long years at college is over. A week of spring break ensues, followed by 13th and final term at Drexel.

About a month ago, the news media was adrift with reports about 1 billion downloads from iTunes. $0.99 Billion of cash spent by consumers in just under 3 years. All this money was spent on music downloads that are encoded in Apples proprietary format with their own DRM. I do not own an iPod. I doubt I ever will. I certainly will never use iTunes as my choice of music provider.

I’ve followed the digital music scene for as long as I can remember. Back in 1998 when one could use services such as and AudioGalaxy to freely download music, I was right there. Sure, it was illegal, but honestly I was 16 and didn’t know better. I had rarely ever paid for music before. If I wanted a song, I’d grab the audio cassette (remember those things?!?) from a friend and using the hifi stereo my parents had, I’d copy it onto a blank cassette of my own. Occasionally, my parents might buy me an audio-tape. Birthdays were always eagerly awaited because it probably meant 3-4 different tapes from various family/friends as gifts. As my internet connection and computer were upgraded, I started downloading music. It was painfully slow over a dial-up connection. I now had a CD-ROM drive and this meant I could rip audio-CDs that I borrowed. I built up my MP3 collection in this way. In my 12th grade, I remember making a presentation as part of my senior year graduation requirements. The topic I chose was titled: “MP3 – A Revolution”. But even then, I never quite fathomed the drastic changes that digital audio and video would bring to use as consumers of entertainment. A lot of the changes are for the better – better quality, more portability, and easier availability, just to mention a few. But one of the worst changes is DRM. And the worst proponent of DRM is Apple, with its iTunes + iPod combination.

Recently France passed legislation requiring Apple to open up its iTunes store to be compatible with other music player. Denmark is also thinking of something along the same lines. Go Europe! I think all those who are investing money into iTunes and its proprietary DRM are silly. These people are essentially betting that Apple and its music will be the format of the future. Sure, the way it’s going this may well be so. I’ve seen numbers floating around that 82% of all digital music sales belong to iTunes. But if there is one thing we need to learn from the history of economics, it is that no company lasts forever. What happens when that insane combination of a phone, camera, music and video-player is here? All those idiots who spent the 1 billion dollars on iTunes find themselves in the cold. Or they wait for Apple to release something like that.

Let me set the records straight before I am lambasted by all on sundry for being a pirate. I’m not opposed to DRM in general. There are some implementations that seem better than others. But iTunes is not one of them. The PlayForSure from Microsoft seems a little better in that they are making the effort to support a variety of devices and a variety of digital music stores, but according to the EFF they suck too.

But then that is what record labels are there for. To make you buy the same product over, and over, and over and over. First they sold it to you as a vinyl, then as an audio-cassette, then CDs, DVD-audio was briefly the thing, now digital, who knows what is next? But I’m not about to waste my dollars finding out. And God help you if you happen to lose your collection and are unable to download them again.

Personally, I still collect all my MP3s the good old way. I rip them from a CD into high-bit rate digital files that are crystal clear. I can move these around to how many ever computers I want. I can copy them to whatever digital music player I feel like. I pop them into a remixing software and play around with the beats. I can burn to a CD how many ever times I wish. Metallica be damned. Music is an artistic expression that needs to be shared with the world. Artists are due their royalty for creation once. Not repeatedly.

For those interested in more information, downhillbattle has a great site on the issue.

4 thoughts on “The Silliness of DRM

  1. OGG VORBIS is where it’s at. Awesome audio quality, plays in my phone and computer, and it’s pretty quick to rip. It doesn’t handle really saturated music well at the edge of the analogue limit (try ripping Smashing Pumpkins “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness” CD for example — MP3 square-waves the hell out of it and OGG makes it sound mushy) but the music is compressed into less space. I keep meaning to re-rip all my MP3s to OGG, some day I’ll get around to it.

  2. Krishna! That’s so funny, because I was just bitching about the very same thing, as Josh pointed out.

    We should hang out sometime! Let me know if you want too, and we can work something out.

    By the way, FUCK greedy, brainwashed Metallica. They’d be nothing if it weren’t for bootleg tapes made and distributed (often times for FREE) by their fans.

  3. Two things, clarifications morelike.
    a) You would never use iTunes, but you will concede that you will/have recommended it in the past?

    b)About your take on the royalty..would the same analogy apply to writers?

  4. Josh: OGG support on MP3 players is still an issue. MP3 is the universal standard. I know OGG is better, but the switch will happen only when OGG is better accepted by the media-player manfuacturers.

    Jessie: It has been ages, and we should absolutely hang out! We should exchange screen names so we can be in contact without having Josh intervene 😉

    Reva: I would never use iTunes. I don’t believe that I have recommended it as a “good digital music store” because these dont exist. But to each his own. If someone wishes to use the tight-coupling of iPod+iTunes and is happy with it, I am happy for them. I might think they are silly…but they will be happy and silly 🙂
    Regarding writers: Good question, it is an issue that I have not considered. It is a different industry, so off the top of my head, I’d have to say that the same analogy would not apply. But the publishing industry is not one that I follow, so I am unaware its inner-workings. You should give me a lesson on that.

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