On DRM and iTunes

I was pretty happy to see Steve Jobs write his thoughts on DRM and post them publically on Apple's site.

I can't imagine that DRM is going to last. I'm sure that Jobs' article was a lot of spin related to the European lawsuits against the iTMS, but at the same time, I think he's trying to push things towards a DRM-free world. I hope it works.

Anti-DRM activists, like Cory Doctorow, have been criticizing Apple about their stance on DRM. I think perhaps the most logical point they make is that Apple has been asked not to apply DRM to tracks that don't require it (e.g., by indie artists that want their music to be in open formats), but they apparently have not been honoring those requests. I admit, I don't understand that in light of Jobs' comments.

The one thing that bugs me, though, is that if you read Slashdot or BoingBoing or any of Cory's anti-DRM articles here and there, they pile on Apple for locking us in to the iPod. Ok, I admit that iTunes will not allow you to simply copy music from your iPod to iTunes. But who doesn't know about PodWorks or Senuti or IPodRip or iPodCopy or iPod Access or iPod.iTunes or iPod Music Liberator or... It's not like these software packages are hard to find or seem in any way to be shady. The first time I found that I couldn't move my songs back to iTunes, I opened up a Terminal window, cd'ed to /Volumes, and found that using that ultra secret UNIX command "cp", I could copy my tracks onto my computer.

The other thing that annoys me is how the anti-Apple-DRM articles often try to make it seem like you have no choice but to listen to your iTMS tracks on your iPod. I have my tracks on a couple of computers, my iPod, my wife's iPod, and I've burned them to CD. Yes, I know the limitations of what you can and can't do when you burn, re-rip, etc., but the fact is, that you do have that capability. If you're going to criticize Jobs, Apple, and the iTMS, you can't just pretend that doesn't exist.

The other thing is, Jobs points out that for most people 97% of their music comes from their collection, and only 3% (on average) was bought at the iTMS. Cory points out that, for example, you may have spent $150 on iTMS tracks if you are a typical user. Between Shan and I, we've probably bought about that, although a fair amount of what we bought came from iTMS gift cards. Again, the criticism is that we are now "locked" to the iPod because of those 150 - 200 tracks. Ummm... I have >400 CDs. Multiply that by $10 - $15 each, and I think I have *far* more invested in CDs than in iTMS tracks, and I think that is common of iPod users. In the pre-DRM years, I agonized over the decisions to buy on CD music I had on LP or tape, but in some cases I did it, and in others I didn't. Now I'm occasionally buying iTMS copies of stuff I have on tape and LP and yes it does bug me. However, 10 years from now, if music is in yet another form, I think I will probably weigh the cost of format shifting vs. re-buying, and I may wind up re-buying yet again. I know that the music companies want us to keep re-buying the same music over and over again, but enterprising inventors seem to always come up with some way of format shifting. I could buy some hardware to convert my tapes to mp3s, I just think that spending say $100 at iTMS is better than spending my time, which I value more than that, doing the work.

I don't see what I've spent (or will spend over the years) at the iTMS being any impediment when the next music format comes along, I see my CD collection being the bigger issue. If I have to re-buy say 300 tracks, I'll be annoyed, but if I have to re-buy 8,000 tracks, I'll be downright pissed.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep using my iPod, I'll buy from the iTMS, and I'll continue to hope that DRM goes away. I'll probably read anti-DRM rants when they show up in the various media I read, but I will also roll my eyes every time someone yet again pretends that iTunes is some evil piece of software that should be avoided at all costs.


Blogger Howard said...


Interesting take on the DRM issue. I'm in the same camp -- don't really like it, but it doesn't really stop me. I've been curious what musicians think of it, and found an interesting take by a composer. He thinks, if DRM is too restrictive, it may inhibit the new forms of creativity. (His article is called "The "Other" Digital Rights Management.)

Part of me wants to join the various boycotts that have been discussed, and make a fuss. Part of me just wants to hear my music.

- Howard

5:36 PM  

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