Maybe I’m just a yellow-bellied namby pamby pollyanna goody-two-shoes (insert more 1950s insults for cowardice here), but I am not in favor of downloading unlicensed music from the Internet. Call me crazy, but working in the publishing industry has me conditioned to think people should pay for what they consume in one fashion or another.
At the same time, I am firmly against DRM — which for those who don’t follow this stuff closely — stands for Digital Rights Management. DRM is essentially software that is encoded into the music sold on many legal music outlets — such as iTunes — that prevents it from being copied.
The problem with DRM is that even after you spend the money to buy a song or album, you are still limited in what you can do with it. DRM is why you can’t make copies of music you buy on iTunes or put it on a non-Apple device, for example. This makes people like me angry. It’s an exploitative attempt to lock you into buying more products from a particular company down the road.
The good news is that some major online outlets have come around to public distaste for DRM, and are beginning to offer music in DRM-free formats such as MP3.
I get most of my music in the form of MP3s from eMusic. I pay a $15/month subscription fee in exchange for 50 downloads. That amounts to about 4 albums of music per month, which would cost me at least $40 at iTunes. The only problem with eMusic is that while it boasts hundreds of the best indie bands out there, mainstream acts with major record deals are not to be found there.
Fortunately, Amazon.com recently struck a deal with many of the major record companies that allows them to offer MP3s on its site. Better yet, full albums are typically $2 – $3 cheaper than they are on iTunes, meaning you are getting a legal product of superior quality (in terms of your potential reuse) for less.
Now comes news that Wal-Mart is jumping on the MP3 bandwagon. According to Wired (via Techdirt) the retail behemoth has abandoned its DRM in favor of the reusable standard MP3 format. Wal-Mart had been selling music on its Web site that was protected by Microsoft-designed DRM. That technology prevented those songs from being played on iPods. Which, if you haven’t heard, are pretty popular.
Anyway, the Wired article says artists on the Sony/BMG label will not be available for download — presumably because Wal-Mart hasn’t worked out a multi-million dollar licensing deal with them.
But anyone who covers the business world at any level knows that Wal-Mart can be a powerful force for change, good and bad. Even in the relatively soft-goods world of online media sales, I’m betting Wal-Mart’s enormous gravitational pull will help bring in the tide on DRM.
Now back to our regularly scheduled making fun of scientists and old people.
Wal-Mart Abandons Windows DRM, Sony/BMG and Warner [Wired]