Digital Rights Management

I was just reading something in Monday’s USA Today about EMI considering allowing its music to be sold online without DRM (digital rights management – the copy protection that keeps you from playing, say, a song you downloaded from iTunes on your Zune). The other major labels (especially Warner) have balked at the idea. This shows just how clueless the music industry is. I hate to be the one to break it to them, but DRM is just an annoyance to the consumer. As a deterrent to piracy it’s a joke.
I first ran into something like DRM with a Sony DAT (digital audio tape) deck in the early 90’s. It had SCMS (serial copy management system), which is essentially the same idea as DRM and was intended to prevent you from making a digital copy of a store bought CD. Well, you want to know an embarassingly easy way around SCMS? Try using standard, old fashioned analog patch cables. Yes, just plug the left and right outputs of your CD player to the left and right inputs on your DAT deck and, like magic, no SCMS. It’s not a digital transfer, so there’s no protection. But, the record companies said at the time, an analog transfer doesn’t sound as good as a digital transfer. Right. That might be technically true. But you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could tell the difference between the original and a copy.
It was a moot point, anyway, because the record industry paid only lip service to the DAT format. They never supported it, and let a great format die in the consumer market simply because they were terrified by the prospect of John Q. Public making digital copies. They pretty much killed every successive recordable digital format in the same way.
Well, the mp3 format sort of let the cat out of the bag. Although I can’t stand the sound of mp3’s outside of a noisy environment like a car, I love what they’ve done to the music industry. This is a genie they couldn’t keep in the bottle. It was the great end-run around the iron-fisted control that the recording industry used to regulate how we consumers listen to music. iTunes exists today only because of the illegal sharing of music via the mp3 format. It never would have been allowed to exist had the record labels not been desperately seeking a way to stem the hemorrhaging of the profits as consumers by-passed their rediculously high-priced compact discs and traded music amongst themselves. In short, the mp3 format was something the record labels couldn’t control, much less stamp out.
The proliferation of the mp3 format is the reason it makes sense to do away with DMS. It’s not that hard to get around, and is just another stupid way in which the recording industry is trying to control how the consumer can listen to music.

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