Last week we were startled to learn about Zune’s viral DRM system. As it turns out, the whole thing may have been a miscommunication on the part of Microsoft’s Zune Insider. But that doesn’t mean that Zune isn’t responsible for spreading the DRM virus. On the contrary, there’s mounting evidence that Zune is directly responsible for a mutation of the virus.
With the release of Zune, Microsoft has intentionally turned its back on its previous DRM standard – the PlaysForSure system. As a result, PlaysForSure partners are starting to drop support for Microsoft’s old DRM system in favor of their own proprietary DRM systems.
On Monday Real Networks and SanDisk announced that the Rhapsody music service will be switching from PlaysForSure to Real’s own Rhapsody DNA system. In an attempt to emulate Apple’s iTunes/iPod experience, SanDisk will release a new player that will be tightly integrated with the Rhapsody music service. The move is designed to position both companies against the upcoming Zune Marketplace as well as iTunes.
But wait, there’s more: Industry analysts are reporting that Napster is failing fast, and may be up for sale. Creative is being named as a possible buyer. If that happens it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Creative take the same approach Rhaspody and SanDisk have by creating yet another proprietary DRM system.
Just what the world needs, more incompatible standards for digital music. Can there be any doubt that we’re headed for a DRM pandemic?
This is a virus that kills consumer rights.
I may be dating myself with this one, but I remember a day when I could buy an LP, cassette, or CD without having to worry about what hardware I was going to play the music on. Now it appears we’re entering an era where consumers are being asked to pick a brand and lock themselves in for the long run.
As a consumer I’m reluctant to buy digital music from any of these marketplaces – there’s no telling what DRM system is coming next, or when any one of these vendors will abandon their current system for “strategic” reasons. Just a few months ago it would have been unthinkable to suggest that Microsoft would orphan PlaysForSure. In fact, Microsoft still denies they’ve abandoned the system. Obviously their partners think otherwise.
There’s a reason why France and Scandinavian countries have agitating to require DRM manufacturers to open up their technology. Consumers should have the right to play digital music on the player of their choice.
Contrary to what many believe, DRM is not a requirement for a successful digital music ecosystem. eMusic, the number two music download service behind iTunes, has never sold DRM restricted music. Then there’s the fact that DRM does more to restrict fair use than it does to prevent actually piracy. It should also be noted that CD’s are technically digital music. The recording industry sells hundreds of millions of CD’s a year, and very few of those have DRM.
All of these competing DRM systems wouldn’t be such a big problem if consumers could protect themselves against planned obsolescence and the whims of the tech companies that are launching these incompatible DRM systems and music stores.
All of the issues noted above could be minimized if the following were permissible:
- Consumers had the ability to freely convert digital music from one restricted format to another.
- Vendors had the ability to reverse engineer DRM in order to add support for multiple DRM systems to their players.
The real culprit here is the DMCA — but for that bad law, customers could legally convert DRMed files into whatever format they want, and tech creators would be free to reverse engineer the DRM to create compatible devices. Even though those acts have traditionally been and still are non-infringing, the DMCA makes them illegal and stifles fair use, innovation, and competition.
In the meantime consumers would be well advised to avoid all DRM’d music until this situation is resolved and consumers have guaranteed rights. Buy whatever player you like, but just say no to DRM’d music downloads.