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Biting The DRM Dust

David was glad to see Dave Winer say that, in his opinion, the problems people were having with their iPods and iTunes are DRM-related. I was glad to see David get into the issue of what the “R” in DRM really means. It means restrictions.

Until CDs vanish, I continue to buy my albumns via amazon or BN. If I ever want a single track, I’ll maybe use iTunes. The reason is simple – I want to own the music. Really own the music. David raises some fair questions related to this:

  • Buy someone a specific song through an online music store the way you might buy someone a CD? You can’t and pretty soon, once CDs are gone (and they will be), we won’t be able to buy each other music (you can and will be able to buy gift certificates to online music stores…. but how impersonal is that?)
  • Down the road, when there are no more CDs and all music is bought online, pass your life’s music collection onto someone else when you die (the way you can LPs and CDs today)? You can’t.


Something to think about as you drool all over that iPod Nano.

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8 Responses

  1. By Chris Page on December 27th, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    “once CDs are gone (and they will be), we won’t be able to buy each other music”

    Well, if you’re going to project into the future—one in which CDs are no more—I think it’s just as reasonable to predict that electronic music retailers will figure out how to let you buy music for someone else, if that’s what consumers want.

  2. By Elisa Camahort on December 27th, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    Actually you can gift specific songs or albums via iTunes. They introduced the feature before the holiday shopping season this year.

    Plus, we back up our data every night (of course, we’re way anal) including my music. If I wanted to dump that music elsewhere I could as long a I authorized that computer to play it.

    Soon all of our wills will include locations for online music collections and associated passwords to take ownership. So what’s the big deal?

  3. By Andrew Lark on December 27th, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    >> I’ve used the gifting aspect of iTunes several times – it works well. We are making a different point. What if I already own the song – or songs – and I want to gift you them from my collection? The parallel is that I own many books, some of which get gifted each year to others. Having acquired them, I cna pass them on. The difference being I don’t go to the trouble of copying books, but you get the idea. I can’t do that with iTunes. I can do that with a CD – I can give them the CD, or, burn them a collection of songs.

    The same is true of computer back-ups. Why should I have to authorize a computer – that is exactly what we mean by restriction. If I own the song, why shouldn’t anyone in my family be able to listen to them. I do think Apple has come up with a fair number – 5 – but its not inclusive.

    As far of who gets it all when I die, well, that’s the least of my worries. I’m hoping Sophia will like my music and am pretty certain the only way she will have fair access is if I have CD’s and the corresponding digital versions.

  4. By Elisa Camahort on December 27th, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    There are three different parts of this discussion:

    #1 is Functionality:
    I don’t understand what you’re trying to say is the problem with giving music. I burn people CDs from iTunes music all the time. Now, if you were talking about emailing someone a file from a CD you owned, I’m not sure you can do that with iTMS music, but if you’re only talking about burning people a CD from your downloaded music, then yes, you can.

    #2 is the real target:
    It’s the RIAA etc., not retailers. Wherever the RIAA is trying to impede fair use, then they are the real target. Amongst retailers Apple is actually probably the most liberal around.

    To quote a study of online music services I found:
    http://cc.uoregon.edu/cnews/winter2004/itunes.html

    “Compared with other online music stores, iTunes has few limits on what you can do with music you have purchased. [snip] You can burn songs and albums to CD up to 10 times. If you want to make more copies, iTunes requires a change to the playlist.”

    #3, however, is how to define “fair use”:
    I have made (and gifted) MANY a mix tape or CD in my time, but never more than 10 of the same kind. If I loved something enough to want everyone in my family to have a copy…beyond those 10 copies…then I’d BUY it for them. And someone who doesn’t want to buy Copy #11 is really not going to get sympathy from me. (Besides, if you really want to you can burn songs to an audio CD then rip it from that CD and avoid all DRM, albeit with reduced quality and lost song info.)

    I understand the concept of wanting to own music. It’s why I prefer iTunes to Rhapsody or Napster, for example. I also understand there are restrictions, but for even a more-than-casual music lover like me I really think some of this is mountain out of molehill stuff.

  5. By Andrew Lark on December 27th, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Here’s where we agree and differ – I think…

    iTunes is best of breed. Agreed. I’ve tried a couple of the others and still like it the most. And I love my iPod. And I agree, the limits here are less than that with some of the alternatives. But that isn’t the point.
    iTunes does impose restrictions. Those restrictions are Ok for some people (you). And not ok for others (me). Where we differ is in the notion of ownership of property. I believe you should have complete freedom to do with what you purchase – burn and give as many times as you want to whoever you want. So long as it isn’t for commercial purposes, why shouldn’t I? I remember as a teenager taking all my old comics in and exchanging them for what, at the time, was a small fortune. I recently did the same with a few DVDs on eBay. I bought them, I owned them, I sold them. Apple is driving another notion of ownership – one that does come with restrictions. What you are saying accepts those restrictions as OK. And, as much as I don’t like them there isn’t a better alternative yet so I live with them as well – but for a narrower range of purchases. What Apple has done is really interesting – they’ve redefined the packaging of the product called music in a very clever way.
    On the functionality front, with iTunes I am not free to burn to any format, as many times as I choose, anything I choose: “If your playlist includes songs that were purchased from the Music Store (iTunes 4 only), you can only burn 7 copies of the same playlist to an audio CD.” I’m not saying the problem is with giving music – the problem is me not having the freedom to do with music as I please, as I was able to in prior formats. Those formats are still available to me, so I choose them over iTunes most of the time.

    I also agree that for the casual user this is probably all too much to worry about. Much like the Sony DRM issue probably was as well. But these are defining issues as we enter a new age not just for eCommerce but also for products themselves and the dialog is worth having. And we ought to have the dialog before choice vanishes.

  6. By Elisa Camahort on December 27th, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    Yes, it did occur to me that the used LP/CD market will die :(

    But again, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) the restrictions are imposed by the RIAA/record companies as a condition of online sale. Apple happened to negotiate more generous terms from the industry than some other services, probably because they held out the carrot of more successful mass sales.

    I know I’m being a stickler, but I am being so because if you care about these issues more than I do isn’t it kind of wasting your energy to direct your wrath at Apple?

    Which some people seem to be doing (not you so much, Andy.)

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