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Summary:

I came to the conclusion long ago that people like to complain. As case in point, I relate a comment made recently by a retiring executive at my company: “There have been so many changes in my 34 years here. I remember when we first got a network setup and everyone was awe-struck by its capability and potential. Then a week later everyone was complaining about how slow it was…” We are just never satisfied. And so it goes with Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

The DRM (Digital Rights Management) used by iTMS is at the center of the complaints from iTunes users – in fact DRM is the bane of all digital music purchasers, regardless of the clearinghouse of choice. If I buy a song from iTMS, don’t I own it? When I own something, can’t I do as I please with it? Can’t I play it on whatever device I want, burn a backup copy, use it in a home movie or slide show, or turn around and sell it if I decide I don’t want to own it any longer? Well, no, not in this day it seems.

I came to the conclusion long ago that people like to complain. As case in point, I relate a comment made recently by a retiring executive at my company: “There have been so many changes in my 34 years here. I remember when we first got a network setup and everyone was awe-struck by its capability and potential. Then a week later everyone was complaining about how slow it was…” We are just never satisfied. And so it goes with Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

The DRM (Digital Rights Management) used by iTMS is at the center of the complaints from iTunes users – in fact DRM is the bane of all digital music purchasers, regardless of the clearinghouse of choice. If I buy a song from iTMS, don’t I own it? When I own something, can’t I do as I please with it? Can’t I play it on whatever device I want, burn a backup copy, use it in a home movie or slide show, or turn around and sell it if I decide I don’t want to own it any longer? Well, no, not in this day it seems.

I’m limited to playing my purchased music on 5 authorized system. 5 systems that are set to use my iTMS account to authorize the play of purchased music from the iTunes Music Store. That’s up from 3 systems which is a step in the right direction. 5 should be enough too – I’ve got my Powerbook, my wife’s Powerbook, our iPod, my iPod Shuffle, and my work laptop all as authenticated systems. I can pretty much get my purchased music wherever I desire to listen to it. Almost.

Did you know that when you put together a slide show of your little girl’s 1st birthday party, add your iTMS purchased Somewhere Over the Rainbow by IZ as background music, burn the whole thing to CD, and send to your family that they won’t hear the background music? They’ll get a nice little message telling them that they’re not authorized to view the movie. (They can view it, but the music won’t play.) Personally, I’d assume that when I put a slide show or home movie together strictly for my own, not for profit consumption that I could watch it as I created it on any platform. Doesn’t seem to be the case though.

What about that Ace Of Base CD I bought in 8th grade when “I Saw The Sign” was the greatest song ever? There came a point when I didn’t want it anymore. I sold it. That’s not technically allowed with iTMS purchased tracks.
Sure, there are ways around Apple’s DRM and I believe most people know what they are. But the point is, if I own the file, I should be able to use it as I please and not have to figure out a way.

When Napster ran their ad in the Super Bowl (by the way, could there have been a lamer ad? I think my 3 year old could have done that on his own – but I digress…) I got all hot an bothered about it. “What idiots! They’re completely mis-representing the facts. With Napster, you don’t own that music, you can’t do whatever you want with it. Not like with iTMS music…” Oh, wait… It was a rash comment to make – hey, I was ticked to be watching the Super Bowl because there was no NHL to be found – and the more I think about that, the more I realize I was somewhat wrong. (I said “somewhat”, don’t tell my wife I admitted to being wrong about something.)

At least when I purchase music from iTMS, it IS mine forever. I’m not leasing access to it as is Napster’s MO. I’m just limited in what I’m actually allowed to do with “my” purchased music.

I really do like the idea of the iTunes Music Store and digital music. I’ve bought plenty of music from there. I can pretty much do whatever I want or need with my music (through one process or another). I think Apple is doing what they can to try to make everyone happy (the decade or so behind the times RIAA firstly though) and advance the Digital Music Age. I applaud them for that. They are opening doors little by little, and I believe that if anyone can [continue to] change the face of music distribution and consumption, it’s Apple.

I think the next logical step, or rather, the next step I’d like to see is the cutting-out of the RIAA from the picture altogether. Let the musicians – the ones actually producing the music and generating the consumer interest – partner directly with Apple and iTunes. Let the profits be split between them and the desires of the artists be the final say in how their music is distributed. I may be horribly wrong here, but I feel like the majority of the bands I love trust their fans to support them. I know I’d feel a heck of a lot better when purchasing music, if I knew that my money was largely going to the artists rather than the RIAA and whatever other sources where telling me what I can and can’t do with my purchased property.

I don’t claim to know or understand the music industry or its inner-workings. I think a better solution should be pretty simple. But then I think there’s also a long road ahead before major changes can happen. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Though Apple has given me hope in the way they’ve so drastically changed the music landscape, and the relatively short time in which they’ve done it.

As always, I want to know what your thoughts are. Do you prefer a different digital music distributor? Do you think there’s a better model? What do you see as the future for digital music – or DRM for that matter? So share your views – it’s what helps to make me so darn intelagint.

  1. …the RIAA and whatever other sources where telling me what I can and can’t do with my purchased property.

    The problem is that it isn’t your property. It never has been. You don’t own the music – it is theirs after all – rather you just license it. That you can resell a CD is only because it exists physically – it is an irritation that the RIAA et al would otherwise like to get around, and digital music allows them to do that.

    I’ve got my Powerbook, my wife’s Powerbook, our iPod, my iPod Shuffle, and my work laptop all as authenticated systems.

    iPods don’t actually count towards the number of authorised computers. You can put iTMS-purchased tracks on as many iPods as you like.

    I think the next logical step, or rather, the next step I’d like to see is the cutting-out of the RIAA from the picture altogether. Let the musicians – the ones actually producing the music and generating the consumer interest – partner directly with Apple and iTunes.

    I’ve been preaching this to anyone who will listen for quite a while, and, unless Apple is subject to some form of non-compete requirements, it seems inevitable, because the RIAA is now just yet another a middleman. (It also helps to further explain the AOL and Time Warner merger, because they have content (through Warner) and distribution (through AOL), but that’s another matter.)

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  2. Actually most cd’s these days along with most boxed software is not allowed to be resold. So even though you are able to sell your cd or that copy of photoshop you bought 3 months ago, but never used, it’s illegal to do so.

    Why this is case, I’m not exactly sure, but it is. That said, when I send iPhoto slideshows to relatives, I burn the music and re-rip to mp3, and then use that song. I think this is okay (since they’re watching the photos and not caring as much about the fidelity of the music) but it’s still a hassle.

    I can go on and on and on about this, but bah. I still think iTMS’s way of doing things is better than say Napsters, but while we don’t really own the music or the software. We own the license to use said music/software, a non-transferable (legally) license, that we agreed to when we bought the license (read the EULA).

    As a software developer, I can understand it to a certain extent, but when is that extent too far?

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  3. Some good points guys
    Gareth – I didn’t realize iPods were exempt from the 5 system limit. good to know for the future.

    Vinay – i do the reripping thing too – especially when doing something in FCE/P where I want the audio at the highest rate possible (48000khz aiff) – but wanted to make a point that some people may not have been aware of. Plus, I didn’t want to make a focus of the [potentially unethical, if not illegal] ways around the DRM.

    But I understand your points.
    It’s being licensed for our listening pleasure, not our ownership. And yes – I agree, I think Apple’s got the market going in the right place, and has a strangle hold on the best DRM if there must be one.

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  4. Nollind Whachell Thursday, April 21, 2005

    Uh, no it’s not illegal to sell your copy of Photoshop to someone else. Adobe even has a transfer of ownership form on it’s web site so that you can do this. I sold my copy to a friend and Adobe transferred the serial under to his name and his Adobe account from mine.

    With regards to music though, ya I’d like to purchase directly from the artist. Magnatune allows this ( magnatune.com ) but of course their selection of artists is limited. For the artists they do carry, you can listen to their entire album online at a pretty high quality as well (128kbps). Rob Costlow, a classical pianist, is one artist I like off there (particularly “Bliss” off his “Sophomore Jinx” album).

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  5. Personally, I think the whole hoo-ha over the DRM is waaaaay overblown. As it stands now, I can take the song I buy from iTunes and play it anywhere, anytime and on any device I want. Sure, I have to burn the song to CD first if I want to put it on more than 5 computers (who the heck has 5 computers???) but so what. I can play it on any device that accepts MP3s. What is the problem?

    I think it’s just that people like to a have a fight… something to complain about… some injustice to seek change for!

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