GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

November 15, 2005

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?

  • Daniel

    I found this place on Slashdot:

    USD$0.02 per MB downloaded
    DRM-less mp3s, up to 320kbps, lossless encoding available
    Is it legal?
    Should you be linking to it?
    If you wanna buy songs, don’t use a credit card… use paypal to transfer cash in

  • Ho John Lee

    This is exactly the same line of thinking that I ended up with. I have stayed at iTunes 4.7 to defer figuring out the new and improved DRM, and have a huge collection of physical CDs which don’t get used much because they’re all backups (and proof of ownership, perhaps) for the bits on the server.

    I would much rather be able to purchase the bits a la iTunes, but don’t have much confidence in relying on someone else’s trust chain to maintain access to my music collection as the underlying hardware changes (new servers, new clients, new mobile devices…)

    Peter Burrows wrote something along similar lines a couple of months ago after losing some iTunes purchases after scrubbing a home computer.

  • Ray

    There’s such a thing as a happy medium, and iTunes is pretty close to it. For the vast majority, use is, for practical purposes, unlimited. But any compromise solution will piss off people at either end of the bell curve of expectations – and at one end are those who expect to be able to do whatever they want with the music, have a sophisticated technological setup, and go seeking the edge of the rights envelope.

    The “R” in DRM is (in my view) making some talk in absolutist terms as if the fate of democracy is at state, when it’s just about money. If I were running a record company, I would address this “tail” issue through differential pricing, e.g. $.99 per track for DRM, maybe $2.99 for non-DRM, for those who really want to do whatever you want.

  • Anonymous Coward

    Just so you know, the new BRMC album probably installed SunnComm’s MediaMax software on your computer without your permission or knowledge.

    Here’s a link to instructions for removal:

    For your reference, you may remember SunnComm for suing a Princeton graduate student that told people to circumvent the installation of their software by holding down the ‘shift’ key.

  • kellan

    One of the most interesting developments this week in DRM is all of a sudden I’m reconsidering buying tracks from iTunes store. Why? Certainly not anything that Apple has done right, but rather Sony has made it even scarier to buy CDs then to buy from Apple.

    (p.s. I was sticking with 4.7, but then I got a new iPod for my bday last week, and it wouldn’t work unless I upgraded)

  • Raj Bala

    Digital vinyl is my personal future. Order the vinyl when a record is released and then get access to download high quality MP3s with no-DRM.

    Sure it’s not for the masses, but for people like me it’s fantastic.

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