DRM … Shackling Your Media

Shackling your media

I am fed up of buying things, only to have to buy them again a couple of years down the line. Specifically media, be it music or video.

In some cases it has been sensible, i.e. moving from video to DVD and the whole Vinyl to Tape to CD thing. I understand that to some extent, these things were unavoidable, and the increase in quality made it worth the effort. But it really annoys me that I have bought 3 copies of Thriller, 2 of which I now have no way of playing, but how else would I get Michael’s squeaky goodness?

Now it would seem that the age of the CD has past, MP3 players are the new black. Everyone is well aware that you throw your CD into the computer and it “rips” the music to your computer, and it magically appears on your iPod (or equivalent).

The legality of this is a gray area, depending on where you live. In the US they have, what is called “Fair Use”, and although the record companies are asserting that ripping is not fair use, I don’t believe they are getting anywhere. Here in the UK I know of no such specific law stating that this practice is OK. There is always talk of “copying for personal use” and “non-commercial” etc … but this is all anecdotal. I believe that everyone assumes that it is OK because nobody has heard of anyone being prosecuted. I also don’t imagine that the record companies will be looking to prosecute people, because if they lost the case it would be incredibly damaging, exposing themselves as the petty mercenaries that they are, but just because it is de-facto legal, doesn’t make it actually legal.

Along came the solution in the form of the iTunes store, to re-sell you all the tracks you already had and more. The problem is that for a long time all the music bought from iTunes was encoded with DRM.

Many people think of DRM, if they give it any attention at all, as “Copy Protection”. It makes sense right? If you have a product, that people can make an identical copy of for free, with very little effort, what is to stop them making a copy of their friend’s downloads.

DRM however is far more than copy protection, it stands for “Digital Rights Management”, which roughly translates as, “Although you have bought this music, we will control how you may use it”. Unsurprisingly one of the restrictions that was included with the iTunes DRM is that it would only play on an iPod, or computer running iTunes. Further than that you are restricted to 4 devices.

Now the industry is quick to point out that very few people complain about this. It fits their needs. This is because while digital music players are niche devices, and the iPod is seen as the only option, 4 devices are plenty, and as long as their only digital music player (iPod) works fine all is well. However when these devices become ubiquitous, it starts becoming a little more restrictive. Think about it as if you bought a CD and were told that you could use it in your portable CD player and the player in the kitchen, and Maybe in the kids CD players. But what if you want to hear it in the car, or on your computer, or when you are on holiday.

Digital Players are everywhere now, phones, DVD players, games consoles … why should I not play MY music on one of these other devices? And the answer is right there. Although I have bought the music it would appear that it is not actually mine.

iTunes has a DRM-free selection now, but it is far from the complete collection (because the record industry are trying to play hard ball with apple, but that is another topic), and Amazon have launched an MP3 download service which is DRM free, but alas this is not available in the UK.

And what is far more important to me is Video. The same situation exists, it is possible but not exactly legal to rip your DVD for use on your iPod etc (via Handbrake or some such program), and iTunes have recently started selling TV shows etc, but there seems to be no plans for DRM-Free video. I don’t want to watch TV on my computer!

And what these companies don’t get, when they are holding back from being DRM-free on iTunes, is that it is all easily available via bit torrent DRM free and often higher quality!

Is it any wonder that the music industry is struggling when people who are trying to do the right thing by buying the music that they want, frequently have to choose between paying for low quality music with DRM and piracy?

DRM, iTunes, media, Fair Use, technology

One Response to DRM … Shackling Your Media

  1. RC says:

    I’m frustrated with iTunes, too, since I’ve used up one of my “uses” for quite a few downloads when my computer did the major crash. I wish there was a good answer on this one…

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