Why Music DRM Doesn’t Work, Except For Apple

September 29th, 2008

MusicThe general consumer probably doesn’t know that sellers of DRM-protected music have to actively maintain DRM management servers for the rest of eternity or else the digital music files will become unplayable. When a seller decides to leave the business, it’s not very long before executives wonder if running expensive DRM servers is really going to enhance shareholder value, especially since the servers no longer have any effect on revenue.

Let me share my own experience. About a decade ago, I purchased a nifty program named MusicMatch Jukebox. I mainly used it to rip or burn CDs. But it also had a music player and, rather than having one program to rip CDs and one to listen to the music, I just used MusicMatch for both. Over the years, MusicMatch started selling music via its player, and I eventually started buying tracks. Sure I was constrained to one music player and a few portable music devices, but I typically listen to songs via my computer. In all I bought about 50 songs. Then in 2007, MusicMatch was purchased by Yahoo!, and I was forced to migrate to the Yahoo! music player in order to listen to my songs. I didn’t like Yahoo’s player, and I finally decided to cut my losses and start over with iTunes (I’d had a hard-drive crash and bought an iPod in the interim). The story ended there for me, but it continued for others. Earlier this year, Yahoo! Music announced its decision to shut down its DRM servers, effective tomorrow. Songs purchased from MusicMatch will still play, but they cannot be transferred to other computers or devices, and they won’t survive a Windows install. So at some point they will become unplayable. [See update at end of article.] The recommended method of keeping protected songs is to burn them to CD and then re-rip them as mp3 files. But if you do this, you’re taking a song that has already lost some of its quality due to compression and then losing even more quality by re-compressing it. This is not a satisfactory solution.

Here is what I do. When I want to purchase a music track, I first go to amazon.com. Amazon sells non-protected songs for about a dollar apiece. If I can’t find it there, I go to the iTunes store. I cannot conceive that Apple will ever shut down its DRM management system, because it’s sold billions of songs. Should Apple attempt to do such a thing, the customer outrage would be of epic proportions. Sure, it restricts me to the iTunes player and iPods/iPhones, but I’m okay with that.

Link: http://www.engadget.com/…

Update: Apparently I missed an update in regards to the Yahoo! shutdown. After an angry customer response, Yahoo! offered coupons for DRM-less mp3 downloads.

Update #2: Walmart has changed its mind. Also, xkcd has published a comic that explains the situation.

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