Fear (and Loathing?) of DRM

I buy a lot of music. That’s right, I buy a lot of music.

Recently, however, I’ve become frustrated with the increasing limitations placed on the music which I’ve legally purchased that includes restrictions from Digital Rights Management software incorporated into it.

My perspective is that all technology, including DRM, is not inherently good or bad. It is the uses of that technology that make it so. Yet when the policies enforced by the content producers/distributors significantly constrain my personal use of music, it significantly detracts from the value I derive from it. In other words, when my flexibility for normal personal use is infringed upon, I become an unhappy customer.

So, no, I don’t unilaterally dislike DRM per se. Rather, I am scared of DRM and the policies which aren’t consistent with my expectations and that can be retroactively enacted. It’s this anxiety in the face policies that are emerging and may be grandfathered into existing music which I am purchasing and have already purchased that have pushed me away from accepting new technologies.

For example, I haven’t upgraded my iTunes from version 4.7 (Apple has now released version 6) out of fear from further inhibitions of limitations on the music that I already listen to. After buying one album (The Black Keys’ Rubber Factory) last year and subsequently soon realizing that I couldn’t have it accessed on more than five personal PCs, I have never purchased anything on iTunes again in their proprietary format. I literally have and continue to purchase all of my music on physical CDs from Amazon (whose service I love). My thinking has been that if I owned a physical CD, I could always use it as an archive master for ripping it DRM-free into whatever format I decide to use in the future.

But now that approach is not even safe. Recently I purchased Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s new album, Howl, and had trouble even importing into my own iTunes once because of the “Content Protected” technology that’s incorporated into the CD.

In this New York Times article from yesterday, the Chief Executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, Mitch Bainwol said that,

“[Copy-protection technology] is an answer to the problem that clearly the marketplace is going to see more of.”

I understand why the content producers/distributors are doing what they are, but I don’t agree in what and how they are doing it. Now I don’t know what to do. It looks like I’ll stop purchasing music with this “Content Protected” insignia on it, which is surely not the intention of the labels.

So now what music I am buying and how I am buying it is driven and limited by fear.

What am I missing here? Perhaps my concern is partially out of ignorance, but I as a customer don’t feel adequately informed about what rights I am actually buying when I purchase new music. Thoughts?

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.