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May 17, 2007

The Death of DRM?

Today marked another milestone in the now inexorable march toward the death of digital rights management as we know it. Amazon.com announced that it would launch its music download service without any DRM protection, meaning the songs can be played on any device and shared with anyone. The announcement follows the full-court press now being applied by Apple (the largest seller of digital music) and EMI (the third-largest record company), both of whom have come out in opposition of DRM.

But in the media and content deep dives we’ve had, record company executives are still focused on protecting their intellectual property. And who can blame them? They invest a lot of money to discover, develop, and promote the artists that ultimately make the music. We’ve had some spirited debate about piracy in nearly all of our deep dives in this topic area, and there are always two sides: those that feel the record companies deserve to be paid for their product, and those that feel that music is made to be shared.

But is it possible the problem isn’t that DRM protections exist, but rather that the ones that do exist are too complicated, arbitrary, and proprietary for the average consumer to care. Here’s a quick quiz: How many times can you burn an iTunes playlist? What devices are Napster downloads compatible with? Which MP3 players are Rhapsody songs compatible with?

The only reason you would know the answers to these questions is if you had bumped up against one of these DRM restrictions in the past. And even then you may not know anything more than that you had reached your limit. The digital download market is too fragile right now to have such complicated and wildly varying rules. Especially when there is a cheap alternative that is readily available in the market: piracy.

That’s why many deep dive participants voiced their desire to see a standardized, universal DRM solution for all types of digital content, not just music. It’s what we’ve come to start calling a “Content Bill of Rights,” a set of easily understood rules that applies to a particular piece of content, rather than the distribution service or the device it gets played on. Maybe it would be like this:  if I buy a copy of Spider-Man III, I want to own it for the rest of my life. I want to be able to play it on any device, or download it as many times as I like. And if another portable medium replaces DVDs in the future, I don’t have to buy another copy of the movie, because I already did that. All we have to figure out is a fair price for that.

If these rules could be made simple, fair and universal, with input from the content producers, distributors, and consumers (and the last one is the key), then could it be possible that people would be willing to pay for digital content, rather than steal it? We’re going to endeavor to find out.

May 17, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink


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Also a factor that is seldom mentioned is the pretty poor quality of digital downloads. "pirated" downloads are almost always of much superior quality, utilisting bitrates much higher, often variable bitrates, better encoding algorithms, album art and so on. I did the right thing and paid for a popular artist's album and grew frustrated with the restrictions (could only copy to my mp3 player 3 times and restricted to Windows silly media player which I don't like) and over a quality sound system the recording quality was obviously very poor (128kbit closed source poor quality encoding algorithm compared to MP3 lame enc variable bit rate). In the end the restrictions did not justify the poor sound quality so I obtained it through 'other means'.

I can not say my experience with DRM was very pleasant.

I expect superior sound quality, or at least this option, if we are expected to pay and put up with restrictions.

Posted by: Supreme Dalek | Jun 4, 2007 10:33:13 PM

Wow this is an interesting post..Hmmm i can play music on any device and shared with anyone? That's nice..Hmmm i hope there is no problem on it..

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