Some of the wonderful things rattling around in this full brain 'o mine. UPDATED EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY (or at least twice a week)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sugar, DRM’s Going Down.

DRM is going down. Mark my words. Everyone from Steve Jobs to Courtney Love to every techno geek in the world seems to have something to say about it, so it was only a matter of time before I needed to weigh in. Here’s what I see happening though:

DRM is going down.

For those who don’t know, DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is the techno-phrase used for the copyright protection on downloaded music. To use the most famous example: the iTunes store. They use a special type of protection on every file downloaded from the store making it so that you can only play those files on a limited number of computers through the iTunes program, or on any number of iPods.

The iTunes store to date has sold somewhere around 2 billion songs. That’s not bad, considering each song costs around 1$, that equates to around 2 billion dollars for those of us who aren’t mathematically inclined. That’s a decent amount of money added to the sale of all those 90 million iPods sold. Why on earth then would Steve Jobs bite the DRM hands that feed him? In early February, Steve published what essentially was an open letter titled “Thoughts on Music” that discussed possible scenarios involving the future of DRM. It’s a fairly decent read. He points out that, eventually, the music industry needs to pick one DRM for all of its music, or go open-source; non-DRM’d downloaded music as a way to combat piracy. Of course, one thinks, if there was no protection on downloaded music, why wouldn’t piracy blow up even more than what it does now with non-DRM’d CD’s being bought at 20 billion songs a year?

Anyway, the very next day, Mark Cuban posted an article on his blog titled “What the Music Biz should do next” which explained a very interesting way for the music business to profit from ridding itself of DRM with it’s music downloads. For those of you who’ve never read Mark Cuban’s blog, go do it. It’s almost always a good read, and the man has some very interesting ideas almost always related to how to make money from most technology situations when he’s not talking about the other love of his life, his NBA Dallas Mavericks. Anyway, his article raised a very interesting point on how non-protected music could easily make boatloads of cash for the publishers of said music.

Also, shortly after the Steve Jobs letter, another letter popped up on Digg. It was an open letter from Courtney Love (between or in another drug haze) entitled “Courtney Love does the Math” pointing out how much money from record sales really go to the artists that you’re trying to support. Reading this excellent article brings home one simple fact: going to the local music store, or Target, or Wal-Mart, or Best Buy, or Circuit City to buy a CD by your favorite band allows that band to see about as much money as they would if you had gone online, figured out how to run Bit Torrent, and downloaded the album for free.

The only people who are hurt from the music piracy, is the record labels, as the artists rarely see the money from the record sales. Most often, the artists are lucky to break even, if they ever do.

I wondered if there was going to be any fallout from Steve Jobs’ open letter. I saw a few smatterings here and there of record executives speaking out against it. In the weeks that have followed, I’ve yet to see an artist take a stand either way. Today, I checked out USA Today only to see an article that EMI is going to be pursuing distributing non-protected music through the net. I find this very interesting. I figured it would only be a matter of time.

Ever since I can remember, there have always been ways around DRM protections on every type of media. If you’re going to put it on a media, then expect it to be able to be copied. Course…I don’t know if you could copy a record, or an eight-track, but cassette tapes were incredibly popular because you could do that. Same with CD’s, VHS movies, and DVD’s. It just stands, if you want to find a copy of something hard enough, you’re going to be able to find it or find a way to make one. Especially with the influx of techno-geeks who have the time on their hands to figure out how to copy said media. I remember an article written by Mark Cuban some time ago relaying this fact, but pointing out that the industry’s best way to combat piracy is in availability. You’re going to have pirates forever. However, if you make your media available as easily and cheaply as possible, you’re going to cut down on the number of people who try to pirate your products. It can take a normal person hours to set up and use bit Torrent on their computer system, and then more hours to actually find the torrents and download them. If there was one place someone could go and, in just minutes, set up an account to preview and cheaply download the exact media they wanted, I’m sure they’d do that instead of going with the harder, more time consuming bit Torrent.

Also, let’s face it; pirated copies are still just that: copies. You could go out and download the newest movie you want to see in the theater, but it’s probably a crappy copy that someone has taped with a video camera, which then had to be input into a computer, and run through a filter dissipating it’s bit rate to the point where you’re not quite sure what you’re actually seeing on the screen. Not to mention, the sound quality is horrible and it takes you days to get the download slowing down your computer and using up valuable cable modem bandwidth in the process. The point is, the copy will never be as good as the original.

This brings me back to a personal example of what I view the non-DRM world could and should be:

In the beginning days of file-sharing, I was a sophomore/junior in college. I downloaded Napster. I used it not very efficiently, since most things back in those days were dialup. I also had a CD collection of over 1000 discs, 70% of which I didn’t listen to on any sort of regular basis considering most of them had 1 song I liked which hooked me into trying the CD, only to find that that 1 song was the only good thing on the CD. I was sick of wasting money, so I figured, why not try downloading first, and then I’ll buy if I like it. I was also a huge fan of the Barenaked Ladies. They were getting ready to release a new album, and their first single “Pinch Me” was just starting to be played on the radio. They took an extraordinary stance. They put on their site that they were going to release Pinch Me free on Napster. You could just go out and download the song weeks before the CD’s release. Free. No questions asked. Crazy, right? It was a good song. I had heard it on the radio, so I decided to try downloading it. I found it, downloaded it, and burned it to a CD to listen to the next day in my car. I pop it in, and what do I find? The song, but with clips of BNL talking in the middle of the song. One clip is them asking to get this song on Napster any way possible. Another is of them screwing around saying you shouldn’t trust sneaky Canadians. The song was still there, it was just broken up. I laughed so hard, I almost peed myself. It was great. It was original. It was taking advantage of the available media as a way to get their music out there and it was free advertising. The only people paying for it, were the millions of people downloading and uploading the song, free of charge to BNL. It was brilliant. I went right out and bought the CD the day it was released. I went that year to 3 BNL concerts. I bought T-shirts. Since that time, I’ve learned to go straight to their site and buy their CDs, pre-order it and get something extra. You can even pay a reasonable rate to download live concerts and other media from their site.

Now, imagine if all artists had this same savvy and stance. Loads of artists charge fan-club fees to allow you to download live and rare songs. Imagine though if it was all in one spot? It would be a boon for the music industry.

Hopefully, EMI will take the first step. Hopefully, other new bands will be able to follow suit and have their music hosted so they don’t have to go through a large distributor, and then the artist can see more of the money they should be seeing instead of having to rely more on touring and merchandise sales they have to develop on the side (with the record companies still taking a large cut).


dale said...

I'd sent some money to artist's pay pal accounts after ripping off their music, if I liked it. It'll be interesting to see how the internet's allowance for sharing data changes the music industry. Since downloading and listening online I have shifted somewhat from listening to major acts to attending performances by local musicians. Stuff that's easy to sample on a site like MySpace or Purevolume, but difficult to steal the whole album because not many people own it. I listen to music over and over, but I usually only watch movies once. So I don't think that it would be so bad, theoretically, to copy a DVD so that I can send it back and get the next one from Netflix and watch it when convenient.
I want a blog topic on the oil supply, alternate energy, and global warming. Just since last week I can see across Lake Michigan in that picture of Nate.

dale said...

Maybe this will be a sub comment. I like the title, Fall Out Boy has a new album out soon (or now).