DRM vs. Users – The Good and The Bad

The other day I posted on my thoughts of Rhapsody and Yahoo Music. It seems like there has been a lot of talk about how Yahoo Music users are going to lose their music they purchased through Yahoo. I want clarify a few things:

First, Yahoo Music users can transfer their account to Rhapsody. I believe this also transfers their purchased music. Now, if your account has lapsed, I don’t know exactly how it works. I still think there are lots of Yahoo Music users will get the short end of the deal, and some lose all their purchased music. I know there are worse things in the world, but here are my thought on DRM.They

Digital Rights Management – Good Intentions, Horrible Execution

DRM at heart really has good intentions. It just wants to make sure that people listen to music that they are have bought or subscribed to. In a perfect world, DRM could help the user. If I bought a song, and that song could follow me across all computers, all devices, and I would never lose it. If my computer blew up, I could buy a new one and “hey! There is my song!” My mp3 player, my phone, my laptop, my computer, and anything else all that could play the song. I could burn it to a CD when ever I wanted, and I could use it all this way 100% legally.

But whose rights are being managed? They are not the user’s rights. The scenario above is when the user’s rights are being managed. DRM in its current state doesn’t manage the user’s rights, but the publishers rights. This isn’t a bad thing in theory if both publishers and users rights are managed. But whose rights are being managed? The publisher’s right solely.

DRM in its current state has this philosophy: If there is any possible way that any user could might share a song with someone else who doesn’t own the rights to listen. Unfortunately, this philosophy leads to buying music with DRM into an extremely restricted environment. What would it take to make DRM work?

1) One Universal DRM System – For my music to work everywhere, there only has to be one. I doubt this will ever happen. If there are more than one system, they have to work together seamlessly. This in my opinion is an impossible dream. Why can there only be one? For all Computers, Devices, etc. to work with DRM music, there should only be one system. When there is more, it undoubtably will happen that one device will only support one and not two. Our classic example now is Apple’s technology vs. Windows Based (WMA’s) systems. iPods and iPhone can play apple’s music. Zunes, Sansas, etc can play protected WMAs. There is no way to switch the two. It just doesn’t work.

2) Easier for the User – The reason why all DRM systems have been so locked down is the mentality of “don’t trust the user!” Isn’t that the whole reason why we have DRM? I believe DRM would work a great deal better if it made life easier for a user. I’ll give an example where this indeed has happened with DRM later in this blog post.

3) Don’t Punish the User – Currently, if you slightly fall out of a DRM’s system or model, you lose your music. It is frustrating for users and my biggest fear of buying DRM music is I’ll somehow lose the license, crash my computer, etc. and I will have to re-buy the song. Once 6-7 years ago a hotel maid threw away my plane ticket on accident. It was with Southwest and when I got to the airport I had my driver’s license to prove it was me. I told them my last name of “Carmony” and she asked me if I was Justin and I said yes. They then told me without the ticket I had to buy another one. I was infuriated! They knew it was me. They knew I had bought a ticket. But because of some maid I had to re-buy my ticket. I get the same feeling with DRM. Why can’t I re-download music I purchased? You know I bought it. You know I signed in just fine. So force me to re-buy what I already should own? Just because my computer blew up, or was stolen, or any other number of reasons I would imagine DRM would protect me in this case, not hurt me.

When Digital Rights Management is Good

I think the current DRM model is mostly good for one scenario: music subscriptions. I loved my Yahoo Music account and now my Rhapsody. I love the fact that I can pay a subscription to listen to millions of songs. The key in understanding why I pay money to subscribe is one simple reason: it is more convenient than other illegal alternatives. I used to download music illegally when I was younger. The good old Napster days when it took 30 minutes to download one song over dial-up. Now a person can download an entire discography of a band in under 30 minutes.

DRM makes sense for subscription services. It makes good sense to protect “borrowed” music. People would be able to steal music insanely easy without protecting that music. Besides, they are renting it, not purchasing it. DRM has enabled a new business model that couldn’t exist without it. The only issue is that I can’t use subscription music on any device. Once again, the problem of not having a universal system.

When Digital Rights Management is Bad

Purchasing Music. That sums it up right there. While subscribing to music works well because you can re-download it when needed, buying music with DRM is a huge hassle. It makes it such a big hassle that it is a lot easier to download music illegally than buy it legally. Any current DRM system ties users to specific computers, devices, and rules. If those rules are broken, the music won’t work, and even lost forever. However, instead of coming up with more lenient DRM systems, companies have been doing the sane thing: throwing it out the window.

Amazon, Rhapsody, and many others are allowing people to buy MP3s on their site. This allows people to legally buy their music and do whatever they want with it. It is the same as buying a CD. No worries about what devices it will work on, or if you can burn it to a CD. If you lose it, its your own fault and you can’t blame anyone but yourself.

Once again, if DRM made my life better, I would love to have DRM. However, when DRM is such a restrictive technology, it only hurts honest paying customers and doesn’t stop illegal users. It would be different if acquiring illegal is was hard. But many times it is so much easier to get it illegally on the internet than legally. Once again, I can never say this enough times, if DRM made the consumer’s life better, it would be welcomed with open arms. But since it is such a pain in the butt, we all hate it.

I look forward to the day where either the DRM towel is thrown in and it is only used for subscription based technologies. Or I’ll even look forward to the day when DRM helps my life by just working exactly how I would have want to work. But until then, I will never buy music if I’m bound down by it.

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