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  • The Mac Night Owl’s Alternate Reality: Welcome to a DRM-Free World

    February 16th, 2007

    I can tell you that I have not really had any difficulty living in this world, where digital music players are incompatible, tethered to proprietary music download services. Apple’s FairPlay DRM is really not so odious as some might think. So long as you don’t feel that a Microsoft Zune must connect to iTunes, or an iPod connect to Napster, you’ll be quite comfortable with it.

    You’ll be able to copy the songs you buy from iTunes to five computers, share it among different iPods, and burn them to DVDs. Well, I suppose there’s that ever-present question of whether AAC files, encoded at 128K, provide a sufficiently high degree of audio quality to warrant a “CD quality” designation. But that’s not the point. You see, the real issue is whether the music industry will take up and smell the roses, or whatever they need to smell to give them a healthy dose of reality.

    They believe that you and I are inherently dishonest, and if they don’t take steps to prevent illegal copying, we’ll simply share our music files with everyone we know on the planet, and even billions that we don’t know. In addition, they believe that, if we’re caught with our hands in the cookie jar, we should be sued. After all, isn’t that the way to keep your loyal customers honest?

    What they don’t seem to realize is that we care about the product, not the label. If you’re a U2 fan, you aren’t really interested in the name of the label that releases their recordings. It’s not the same thing as preferring a Pontiac to a Dodge. The music labels enjoy little brand awareness. You don’t buy a recording because it has the Warner label on it. You buy it because Madonna or another artist you like made that CD.

    This has to have an impact on one’s ego, knowing that customer loyalty will last only as long as the artist is signed to a label. If they go elsewhere, the customers follow. Well, so long as that artist continues to produce music fans want to buy, and nobody knows how long that’s going to happen.

    I really don’t know what sort of arguments Steve Jobs has to bring to the table to show the four major music labels that wrapping music downloads in DRM makes no sense whatever. Preventing people from playing that music on whatever device or medium they want isn’t going to make them feel warm and fuzzy about buying more product. If anything, that — and the lawsuits — will discourage them. It may well frustrate enough people that they’ll rush to the nearest “torrent’ site, and download their fill of stolen goods. That’ll teach ’em to mess with us!

    Or maybe they’ll just do nothing and turn their attention to other entertainment-related pursuits.

    No wonder sales of new music are down. Why should you spend your hard-earned money on product from a company that doesn’t trust you, that will sue you in a heartbeat if you dare copy their products in a fashion with which they do not approve?

    This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t get paid for their work. The artist and the company deserve to make a living, and if a recording provides you with entertainment, there’s no reason to complain. That is, unless they’re doing everything possible to prevent you from enjoying your purchase.

    Yes, that’s the ticket. Hate your customers and then wonder why they don’t buy your product. That makes sense, but certainly not in the real world.

    So what would the consequences be if the music industry switched off the DRM albatross once and for all? Would you all rush out and post your music to every illegal site on the planet, or would you just feel the fresh air of freedom, that you can buy your music wherever you want, and buy the music player you like, and be assured of a decent amount of interoperability?

    What would happen to Apple if you could connect a Zune to iTunes, or an iPod to the Zune Marketplace? Would their sales suffer or soar?

    That’s a good question, but I rather suspect everyone will benefit, even the music industry. Indeed, many of you would be more inclined to buy songs online, knowing full well that if one music service goes under, another will happily do business with you, and the files you downloaded won’t stop working!

    In an ideal world, I think the music industry would actually see their bottom lines improve at long last. That is, if they stop smoking whatever it is they’re smoking and start thinking with clear heads for once.

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