Thursday, February 22, 2007

DRM - digital rights management...

It's been in the news a lot lately. At least the online news. Browse Slashdot, Digg, Engadget or any of the other popular sites or services, and you'll see an article about DRM at least four or five times a week. The latest DRM news frenzy has been talking about the death of DRM. I don't have time to properly research all of my sources (so I'll speak out of my ass like the guys talking about sports in that ESPN commercial), but a lot of people have come out to say they think DRM is not working and we'd be better off without. A while ago, Bill Gates said people should just go out and buy CDs and rip the tracks to their computer instead of purchase DRM'd music from online stores. More recently, Steve Jobs, who's beginning to sound like the master of the obvious, wrote his "Thoughts on Music" open letter suggesting all the record labels should sell their music DRM-free. I agree, but don't quite understand why Jobs and Apple won't sell DRM-free tracks from willing indie artists on iTunes. Some say it will be too confusing for their pee-headed customers to deal with a mix of DRM and non-DRM tracks. So they want it to be really simple - if all of the tracks aren't DRM-free than none of them will be DRM-free. All they need is a simple icon next to the track to identify if it has DRM. Then the consumer will know before they purchase if the track is restricted in any way. Consumer choice is good. Those that don't like restrictions on the music they purchase will be able to avoid DRM'd tracks and purchase music from the indie artists that allow their music to go out DRM-free. That might even pressure the bigger labels to abandon DRM. This kind of reminds me of the concerns over bovine growth hormones (BGH) in dairy products. Some dairy companies labeled their products BGH-free. People that were worried about growth hormones in their food could simply avoid products that didn't have that label. Anyhow, it sounds like some other online stores are going to jump ahead and offer DRM-free tracks. The Canadian online music store, Puretracks, yesterday announced it was selling MP3 files from independent labels, including Nettwerk Music Group, Independent Online Distribution Alliance and England's Beggar's Banquet, without DRM. I'm sure more will follow.

I still get most of my music from new or used CDs, many purchased from, Amazon or some affiliate, like who carries some of the older, more obscure music I can't find in the local stores. I then rip these CDs with the DRM feature disabled using lossless encoding to my media server. Even if iTunes goes DRM-free, I probably won't buy any music from them until they also start offering their tracks in a lossless format. I just don't like the idea of paying $.99/track for music that isn't at least as high quality as the original CD. I also think $.99/track is too much to pay for lossy compressed audio. It should be closer to $.25/track. Maybe the $.99 price is okay for lossless tracks especially if you still have the option of purchasing the full CD for $5. Since you don't get the physical disc, the jewel case and the insert, the prices should be lower. And I don't understand why back-catalog music isn't offered at a discount. I can accept paying more for recently released material, just like we do with DVDs, but why don't they offer some of the stuff that was produced in the 60s, 70s and 80s for much lower prices? Old guys like myself might like to replace some of our old scratched up vinyl if the prices weren't so darn high. Artists like Hatfield and the North, Brand X, or even King Crimson aren't benefiting from any current label promotions. I just don't understand why that stuff isn't available at a discount. I'd really like to hear from someone with a better understanding of the music business about this.

I've mentioned in previous posts the online music stores that offer lossless audio tracks. Magnatune offers both lossy and lossless compressed audio or uncompressed WAV files, all without DRM. MusicGiants also offers lossless tracks, but since they sell music from the major labels, they are forced to include DRM. Just recently, I discovered Linn Records (the same people that manufactured my wonderful turntable - the Linn Sondek LP12). In addition to lossless, Linn even offers 24 bit studio master quality for download. All of the music Linn sells is DRM-free. I'm always looking for more sources for high quality lossless music, please leave a comment if you know of any other online stores.

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