Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a tool that doesn’t reflect the general preference of legal music downloaders. Before you read on, hoping that I will advocate for the free distribution of music, let me warn you: I’m a strong supporter of copyright and the protection of intellectual property; I want artists and distributors to make a decent living, but I’m frustrated by the current misuse of digital technology that attempts to thwart illegal distribution. In practice, DRM makes creates compatibility problems that make it excessively difficult, and in most cases, impossible, to listen to music that has been purchased online.
Take, for instance, Apple iTunes and Napster’s use of a DRM wrapper that prevents music purchased from the online service from being used on a digital music player that is not recognized by the DRM wrapper. Not everyone has an iPod, that works with iTunes, or an iriver H10, that works with Napster. I’d like one of these new devices, but I’ve chosen to make due with my Sony NetMD Walkman. In fact, the Walkman’s removable MiniDisc media make the device easy to upgrade. I can carry a cache of MiniDiscs with me, and I’m able to share my discs with other NetMD users, just as if I were sharing an original CD. As flexible as the NetMD MiniDiscs are, the digital recorder isn’t supported by the new DRM security of these two premier music distribution services. How many other yet-to-be-created services won’t support my device? Before starting the argument that Moore’s Law affects all digital devices, and products quickly become too archaic to support, my MiniDisc player is not the only device that’s running into a wall because of DRM…most digital music players run afoul of DRM wrappers.
Jon Johansen, a Norwegian software coder, recently released PyMusique, an application that let’s honest downloaders sidestep the DRM requirements of Applies iTunes music service. PyMusique logs into the iTunes site, facilitates the purchase of music without the iTunes DRM wrapper. Once the unwrapped music is downloaded, it can be transferred to any digital media player, including a computer.
I recognize that once a song (or a set of hundreds of songs) has been downloaded without the DRM wrapper, it can be illegally distributed, just as if it were ripped directly from a physical CD or downloaded from an unauthorized site, but at least I would be able to listen to the media in a manner that’s convenient for me. I say drop the DRM and trust that I won’t illegally distribute the music I just bought.
The world’s not perfect, and there are many dishonest and unethical people; heck, we take actions that are unethical, to some extent. However, DRM is a set of shackles that excessively restrict reasonable use of commercial music. My wife makes the argument that, in the aggregate, artists are likely to get more playtime if their music were distributed freely. At some point, mass appeal encourages commercial success: just ask the Grateful Dead, who “have long encouraged the purely noncommercial exchange of music taped at our concerts and those of our individual members.”
Audiophiles, encourage the simple distribution of the music (and audiobooks) that you enjoy. Be honest, don’t bootleg or pirate recordings. Music distributors, pay heed to your market niche and customer service: drop DRM wrappers, now.
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