So, what if some technical glitch at the Chevy factory caused your car to die in the middle of the road some nights? What if you were constantly kicked out of a restaurant during the middle of a meal, and accused of skipping the bill? What if you were forced to accept these injustices as not only facts of life, but THE LAW? Makes no sense, does it? Guess what: One industry is pushing for this. Let me explain…
Remember the days of Napster in 1997? Remember how people would say,
“Why bother buying music when you can just download it?”
Everybody started copying and sharing music through these piracy networks on the Internet. Imagine, instead of driving to a store in the snow, buying a CD for $14.95 + tax (from which you only wanted one song), and driving back home, all of this was now at your fingertips, on that little metal box called a computer, which you previously only used to write school papers. The music industry was paralyzed by panic, and instead of offering legal music for sale and instant download, they threw a temper tantrum.
“Downloading music is illegal and wrong! You’re violating copyright and robbing from the bands!” the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) chanted.
In reality, they were the ones robbing from Genesis, Metallica, Pink Floyd, and The Pet Shop Boys. By not offering legal online music sales, the RIAA made it impossible for the artists to be compensated by an evolving industry. They figured, hey, let’s sic the FBI on people, and we’ll keep selling CDs. Who cares if the technology exists for instant music downloads? We don’t care that we can make money faster and with less overhead thanks to the Internet. We’re scared of it.
Not everybody enjoying the instant music satisfaction on Napster was proud of being a pirate. In fact, if given the option, most people would pay for their music. Fast forward about eight years, and the industry finally realized that suing the young, the old, and the dead (yes, one deceased person who didn’t even own a compuer was sued… the examples are endless) wouldn’t help music sales. So they finally opted to offer songs (and later TV & movies) online, legally. A new technology called “Digital Rights Management” promised to prevent piracy. So far so good, eh?
The pioneer of legal online music sales was Apple’s iTunes Store. iTunes was a perfect complement to the iPod, the portable music player that gave Apple a huge boost in visibility during the 2000s. Now anyone could download this program called iTunes (www.itunes.com), purchase songs online for only 99 cents each, and enjoy it within a minute or two. No more guilt, no more driving to the store to purchase a CD. Other industry giants (such as Microsoft, Real Networks, and Yahoo) quickly followed suit, offering music for sale online. Consumers were ecstatic; it looked like the industry had finally adapted.
The problem was Digital Rights Management. In order to prevent piracy, the technology verifies your identity as a legal customer before allowing your computer or personal music player (an MP3 player such as the iPod, Creative Zen) to play your music. DRM can work in one of two ways – first, your computer connects to the Internet and asks the rights owner’s website for permission to play the media, each and every time. The second method is by downloading a key – every time you transfer music from your computer to an MP3 player, the MP3 player is given a key – temporary permission to play the music it currently holds… the music you PURCHASED.
Fair enough? Not quite. DRM implies a permanent dependency on “rights owners” – the online music store, the locking technology employed by them, and ultimately the RIAA. It implies an imposed control over you, your music, and incidentally your money. Call me insecure, but what happens if that online music store closes its doors? (It’s already happened: CLICK HERE, and, you guessed it… their customers’ music collections have all been rendered unreadable.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love subscriptions. As long as I pay my yearly bill, I see the latest concept cars in Automoble Magazine, and as long as I pay my monthly fee, I get to enjoy to Sirius in my car. But when, in the history of mankind, have we had to subscribe to something we own? I’ll be darned if I have to ask permission to use my own tennis racket, my own frying pan, or my own refrigerator… If the retailer who sold me those items closes up, no skin off my back.
And thus the innocent are punished. The best examples of this come from Blu-Ray Disc customers, who routinely have to update THEIR players with new DRM keys before they can play new movies. Meanwhile, pirates ALWAYS crack new DRM schemes, shortly after they’re released. Microsoft’s “PlaysForSure” DRM technology was cracked so often, they decided to retire it altogether.
Finallly, DRM is also platform-specific. This means music purchased from one online store is not compatible with music from anothe online store. (Microsoft actually has 3 distinct and incompatible music stores – MSN, Zune, and PlaysForSure!) Basically, once you pick an online music store, you’re stuck with it, unless you re-purchase your entire music collection, as well as a different MP3 player.
Anyone (including failed music stores who feel bad for their old customers) attempting to circumvent DRM risks going to jail thanks to a law known as the DMCA. So, if you’re screwed either way, you might as well pirate your media – you’ll save money! Mama always said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and such is the case here. DRM has succeeded in robbing bands of their hard-earned money.
The solution? Make legal media less of a hassle than piracy. Legal download sites free of DRM are finally surfacing (Walmart.com, Amazon.com, eMusic.com, and iTunes Plus, to name a few). Now, I can finally play by the rules without being punished for it! It’s a lot better for PR than dragging individuals to court for downloading “Jailhouse Rock” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”