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Digital Wrongs

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German magazine brandeins has an article on DRM that focuses on Apple for examples. Despite the magazine’s business character they depict the situation pretty well, giving reasons why rights owners want DRM and why customers cannot possibly want it (pay for something that will most possibly screw you in the long term).

The logical consequence will be to only buy non-restricted media, of course. But the number of online stores for digitally restricted media seems to rise every day. Well, probably it’s just the number of brand names as I am only aware of two stores – iTunes and Microsoft (there was this buzz about Real a while ago but I’ve never really heard of their stuff since). Those stores are incompatible, with iTunes not working on systems that don’t have a recent version of Quicktime and the latter one not working on old Windows version and any Mac.

Assuming that the customers once more fail to stop the crap the industry serves us, it follows that DRM is just starting and will be much bigger. I wonder how many tears will be shed when people realise that they’re royally screwed and their music will play no more when moving to a new computer, when disks fail or similar mishaps. I don’t think that the software is nearly as explicit about the far reaching consequences of investing money in it as it should be. Or did you see a big dialog box in the iTMS that warns you that any mishap to your computer or any less than overly careful handling of iTunes when moving stuff to another computer will significantly impair your ability to enjoy the music you are about to pay for? I didn’t. And neither did I see the default button labelled ‘Cancel’. Even if them DRM beneficiaries are not trying to screw you, the technology still seems too fragile.

While the iTMS’s five copies per song may seem generous, I don’t think you’ll have to be excessively unlucky to lose your music, or the ‘right’ to play it, within ten years. Computers are stolen, hard drives break or are accidentally formatted by people trying to ‘help’ you with a problem…. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to assume that we’ll see this many times. And that we’re unlikely to give our first iTMS singles to our grandchildren a few decades down the road.

Another thing that’s amusing is how much starting to buy digitally restricted music ties you to a platform. I don’t think that many people are aware of this. In particular, if people buy with the mono-platform Windows system, this’ll most likely mean that they’re bound to stay with Windows and cannot switch platforms if they want to keep their music. This could turn out to be dirty. And this may also be a reason why Apple think it’s important to get hold of as much of the DRM market as possible in the early days.

Even if Microsoft ends up with a strong place in the DRM market which seems likely to me as they’ve got a lot of resources and they’re inside many online sellers with many advertising millions, Apple having a strong place as well may make it easier for the companies to convince each other that any such platform should integrate nicely with the other. I.e. that iTunes/Quicktime gets support for Microsoft’s crap and that their equivalent software gets Quicktime support. Even the most pain resistant Microsoft users will find it irritatig that they have to use two different music players for songs they bought in two different music stores.

So, I’m not sure what to hope for: A seamless integration of all technologies on all platforms that works. Or total chaos. The latter will have the advantage that people may be upset enough to not buy DRMed stuff (perhaps we could get the people who privatised Britains railway to ‘organise’ DRM – people still seem to hate them a lot). This being the wonderful digital world, though, my guess is that we’ll end up somewhere in between where things don’t work properly but just well enough for people not to puke. Darn.

Not feeling too well myself this week, thanks to a cold, I did a little bit of the old TV watching. First we (re)watched Nikita on video which actually was good. And then we went to the music channels. They have this song now which is number one in the German charts. The music is completly irremarkable. Just the video is quite sexy. Or rather sexist. – A bunch of sparsely dressed girls ‘exercising’ to the music. And that’s probably a polite way to put it. Yet, I’d find it hard to say that the girls are unpleasant to look at. Perhaps I should get told off by my office-mate Annika (who’s also our equal-opps officer) on Monday…

November 14, 2004, 1:25

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