The music industry is considering doing away with digital rights management, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. This change of heart might be interpreted as a white flag in the D.R.M. battle, an admission that software-based restrictions on digital media are problematic, at least, enough to hamper the labels’ ability to do business online.
Or, you can read it, as I do, as a strategic ploy to undermine the iTunes Music Store, which, as Apple has recently admitted, has turned D.R.M. against the very people it was meant to protect. Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management framework, by tying purchases made through the iTunes Music Store exclusively to the iPod and to no other handheld media players, has allowed the company to create a de facto monopoly on digital music sales, in which it’s very difficult for the major labels to peddle their wares over the Internet through any other vendor.
Even though it’s still just a rumor, this newly enlightened attitude is an encouraging sign, right? If it actually comes to pass, though, I seriously doubt it will be accompanied by an embargo on the industry’s questionable habit of suing consumers who download music from unauthorized channels. Concessions tend to come piecemeal, not wholesale, in this kind of economic disruption.
Nor will it mean that I’ll be any freer to do what I really want to do with digital music: create and distribute the equivalent of mix tapes online. A steady stream of new music makes its way into my iTunes library, some of it protected by D.R.M., some of it from less reputable sources. I’m no taste maker, but I hear a fair amount of interesting stuff, and I’d like to share it with people (this means you).
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