Meet the new DRM, same as the old DRM

13 May 2008

Despite eventually capitulating on the DRM issue by allowing download services to sell digital music tracks DRM-free (albeit for a higher price), the Big Four music labels haven't given up on the idea of locking music downloads. Or at least the Recording Industry Association of America hasn't.

According to Ars Technica, RIAA technology unit head David Hughes said at last week's Digital Hollywood conference in Los Angeles,'[Recently] I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music and 20 of them still require DRM "&brkbar; Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead.'

Hughes' reasoning lies in the concept that per-track downloads will give way to music services based on an all-you-can-eat model paid for by either subscriptions or advertising - both of which need DRM to prevent mass downloads and piracy, he says.

Which suggests that the DRM-free tracks available now are a temporary solution for a service the RIAA figures is on its way out anyway, to be replaced by a new business model that keeps DRM in place.

How this is supposed to (1) stop piracy and (2) mollify consumers already cheesed off about DRM is anyone's guess. Hughes said that he understands consumer concerns over DRM, but added that they don't care so long as it doesn't get in the way of enjoying the music. The problem is that DRM does get in the way, and is likely to do so regardless of the business model.

Forget for a moment that DRM still has compatability problems. Under a subscription-based model, for example, in theory consumers could lose their DRM rights the moment they cancel their subscriptions - or if a music service shuts down.

Witness the case of MSN Music Store. It shut down a year ago, and last month Microsoft announced it would no longer support the DRM keys for music downloaded from the service starting in September 2008. Which means all the music anyone bought from MSN will only work on whatever machine it happens to be sitting on from September onwards. Imagine buying a CD that expires after a year and becomes unplayable, and you get an idea as to why the MSN DRM debacle might be a little upsetting.

As if the RIAA wasn't doing enough to foster as much ill will from music consumers as possible, the US House of Representatives has reportedly passed the PRO-IP (Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property) Act of 2008, which reportedly gives the RIAA the legal power to authorize local law enforcement to seize your computers and related gear if they suspect you of piracy.

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