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DRM Diaries

Kim Hart

Wal-Mart today announced it would sell digital music downloads with no anticopying software. The mega-retailer is offering songs released by record labels EMI Group and Universal Music Group, which are both experimenting with offering music without copy-protection software.

Such software, or DRM (digital rights management) software, prevents consumers from copying music or listening to it across multiple devices. Apple has launched iTunes Plus for DRM-free tracks. Amazon.com is also selling DRM-free music. Other record labels--Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment--said they are testing the impact such a move would have on music sales.

While movie studios and recording labels see DRM-like technology as a way to prevent piracy and unauthorized use of copyrighted content, tech companies say it unfairly limits consumers' access to and use of digital content. The two sides have long butted heads to protect their business models, and several representatives of the industries discussed the issue this morning at the Aspen Summit, an event put on by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Alan Bell, chief technology officer of Paramount Pictures, said a technology like DRM is essential to developing sustainable business models for content producers and distributors. Matthew Zinn, chief privacy officer of TiVo, firmly disagreed, saying that media companies need to end their "Gestapo-like" control over content. "Flexibility does not equal piracy," he said.

One of the most well-known recent copyright legal battles is between Viacom and Google's YouTube. Viacom sued Google for copyright infringement because unauthorized video clips were being posted on the video-sharing site.

Tom Rubin, Microsoft's top copyright attorney, pointed out the company's new video uploading Web site called Soapbox.com, which checks each video clip for copyright infringement before it is posted. He said the system helps "foster user-generated content and an ecosystem that respects the rights of all."

Such arrangements may increase the cost to both sides. Alan Davidson, who heads up Google's Washington office, said pre-screening content before it's posted online may be so expensive that it becomes "impractical." He also warned that pre-screening could create a gatekeeper for online content, which may ultimately limit free speech.

One problem pointed out in the discussion is that consumers' interests are not always represented when tech companies and content providers make such arrangements. For example, would video-sharing sites be as popular as they are today if the content is monitored more closely?


By Kim Hart  |  August 21, 2007; 3:13 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Comments

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Wal-Mart could sell music for 5 cents, wouldn't matter to me... I will not buy censored music or video...

Posted by: dhill | August 22, 2007 9:47 AM

Ms. Hart's understanding of DRM is simply mistaken, and the misconception is at the heart of the DRM debate. DRM does NOT prevent users from copying music. All DRM does is make hardware more expensive, complicate software development, and drive up costs to the law-abiding consumer.

The reason Apple, EMI, Amazon, and now Wal-Mart are ditching DRM is because it simply doesn't work. The DRM system is in fact its own circumvention device because the content must get unscrambled for the consumer to enjoy the content. Once it's unscrambled, any pirate can steal the content. In fact, pirating DRM-crippled music is still as easy as re-connecting stereo wires. (Simply run a wire from the speaker jack of the playback device to the input jack of the recording device and you're in business.)

Alan Bell is a smart enough guy, so I don't think he really believes what he's saying. I think he's just saying what he's told to say because that's the position his employer has taken. That's disappointing, but I'm sympathetic to a man that wants to keep his job.

Pirating is starting to diminish, but it's not because of DRM. It's because the recording industry has begun to win the argument in the court of public opinion. People are starting to understand that distributing copyrighted material to your friends is stealing, pure and simple. The RIAA has a very good webpage that sums up the law, and it's worth reading: http://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy_online_the_law

Happy Trails,

Loye Young
Isaac & Young Computer Company
Laredo, Texas

Posted by: Loye Young | August 22, 2007 10:37 PM

RIAA illegal activities are continuing to increase, and they are being stopped in courts in Mexico and Canada. It's because the recording industry's public opinion continues to decline. People are starting to understand how they are being manipulated by unethical corporations. The US Government has a very good Constitution that sums up the law, and its worth reading: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2007 5:10 AM

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