Music Digital Rights Management
MP3 files can be traded very readily, creating a vast inventory of 'free' music. The music industry is
passionately opposed to unchecked MP3 distribution, of course, because of fears of lost revenue, and has sanctioned
a form of DRM or Digital Rights Management to safeguard their interests.
In the days prior to the CD, it was possible to copy records to tape but each succeeding generation would cause
the audio signal to be degraded. Record companies were not too concerned about losing revenue to this type of
copying, because they felt that consumers would not accept the inferior quality of copies. Digital media changed
all that - exact copies can be made any number of times without deterioration. Digital media is also much easier to
distribute worldwide via Internet.
As soon as Internet MP3 trading became widespread the music industry clamped down hard. They filed lawsuits
against music distribution services like Napster and Kazaa and succeeded in prosecuting individuals who were caught
The music industry wanted a system to prevent consumers from openly copying and trading music. Several types of
DRM - Digital Rights Management have been developed and at the present time, every online music store that operates
in the United States uses some form of DRM.
Consumers who buy songs from Internet music stores usually receive them in either WMA or AAC format. AAC is used
for the Apple iPod, while WMA is used for most other types of MP3 players. DRM can be integrated into both of these
A typical DRM scheme limits the number of times a song can be copied or burnt to CD. There may also be limits to
how the songs are used on private networks - AAC songs can only be heard on five computers at one time.
Napster uses another approach - users can download and listen to any number of songs for a monthly fee, but
those songs cannot be burnt to CD unless the user pays an extra fee. If a payment is missed, all of the songs on
the computer are rendered inoperable.
Is DRM - Digital Rights Management Good
Many view DRM as unnecessarily restrictive. After all, if you buy a CD from a music store, you have the right to
copy that CD, rip it to your computer and sell the original copy.
If you buy a song from an Internet music store you do not have any of those rights. What is more, the online
distributor can adjust the terms of sale at any time after the purchase. We have already seen this with Apple -
they changed the CD burning rights from ten copies to seven, applied retroactively.
In effect, the music that you 'buy' from an online music store is not yours. Your right to use it can be taken
away at any time because of a change in policy or because you missed a monthly payment.
And in spite of the supposed 'protection' that DRM offers to copyright holders, it can easily be circumvented.
DRM songs which are burned to CDs have no restrictions - the CD can be used however the user wishes, including
copying, ripping and converting to (non-restricted) MP3!
So DRM is restrictive, unfair and ineffective. It punishes consumers who are willing to play by the rules and
does not prevent the illegal distribution of MP3s. Perhaps this 'punishment' is enough to drive consumers to find
other (free) sources for music. If this is the case, the music industry has shot itself in the foot.