Steve Jobs, as is his habit, stirred up the entire universe two weeks ago with his open letter advocating the removal of DRM from music files.
Did you not read it? Oh. Well, where have you been? Quick like a bunny! Go read it now!
As you can imagine, response has been pretty negative from those who make money off music or make money “protecting” that music.
As a mostly law-abiding music consumer, I can only agree with Jobs. And I don’t just agree with him because I’d rather have a dinner conversation with him than with Jesus Christ, Ghandi, and Space Ghost combined. No, I just find that as the entertainment industries get more and more consumed with beating piracy, their schemes have become more and more intrusive.
One of the frustrating things for me has always been getting the music I used to own long, long ago into digital form. Before the iTunes Store even existed, I had to use Napster to go hunt down the wacky 12″ single versions I had of many songs that made up my high school mix tapes. To Napster’s credit, back in the day before it was bought, neutered, and then left to die with a sad, unheard wimper, I found all but one of the obscure versions of my old favorite tunes. Extended version of “Perfect Way” by Scritti Politti? Check! The extended version of “The Sun Always Shines on TV” by A-Ha? Check! Extended Version #2a of the theme to Miami Vice? Nope. That’s the one I never found. I got close, but no banana.
What I’m trying not very hard to say is that I had to go find these things “illegally” because the music industry offered me no way to get them otherwise. I might have paid for the files if they were offered… but I would not have liked it. Just because my record collection is sitting somewhere in the possession of my parents and I have no way to transfer the records I paid good, hard-earned, teenage cash for does not mean I should not be allowed to listen to that music now, here, in my free-wheeling near-40s.
Often, there are songs that I can not get to this day on iTunes. And the Napster replacements have all sucked. If I want something obscure, I can just forget it, unless I’m satisfied with the poorly-transfered, truncated file that is cloned a bazillion times. I’ll be good God-damned if I ever join a music subscription service. Sure, they’re Windows only, but even if I were clueless enough to use Windows, I would not be stupid enough to toss good money at something that, in the end, I do not own. Okay, sure, maybe it’s like renting a movie and then later deciding you want it for good… You just buy the DVD. I could, I guess, go buy the song I found so wonderful in my subscription. If I wanted to pay an astronomical fee and only maybe get to burn it to CD for safekeeping. Or spend $18.99 on the CD, if I can find it, for the one song I like.
So far, for me, the iTunes method has been great. One of the only issues has been the over-registering or duplicate registering of computers to play my purchased music. Both times, this has been easily fixed. The other issue has been trying to use a song a friend had bought in a video montage we were creating for Amelia’s funeral last year, and I couldn’t because it was registered to him. A simple CD burn and re-rip later, and this very legitimate use was accomplished.
As we get into the age of widespread digital movies, the issue of DRM becomes more complex. First of all, music and movies are incredibly different. Music is like fistfulls of MnMs you can scarf down while driving or working or jogging or falling asleep. Thoroughly enjoyable, singable, yummy. Movies are a gourmet meal you need to sit and pay attention to. (Well, okay, I know some people who watch their movies on their computers while multi-tasking, but that’s really not getting the full enjoyment from the movie at all. And, come to think of it, those people aren’t much into enjoying a good meal anyway.) I don’t think movies should be more protected than music, even though my paycheck comes from a home entertainment entity who would fight to the death to prevent me from doing much of anything with whatever copy of a movie I might own. (More parentheses: To be fair, the people at my work who are in charge of things have a more lenient theoretical stance on DRM than idiots like Edgar Bronfman, Jr., who, aside from being a businessman who cares only about money, is also a money-loving businessman who cares for nothing but money.)
Then there’s the DRM surrounding computer software. I asked myself, would Steve Jobs be so keen to get rid of the copy protections woven into his own company’s software? Sure, you can get iLife for free from anyone. There is no registration code. The $79 Apple charges for that is just for fun, really. Try to use iWork without a code and it won’t happen, but it’s also just $79, which is a bargain if you actually use it like I do. Though iWork needs a code, you can simply use anyone’s and you’re fine. The really pricey stuff like Final Cut Studio? That app will sniff out the code and make sure no one else on your network is using it, and it will refuse to launch if it finds a duplicate. Not horrible. It’s definitely made us be sure we have the right number of codes for our Final Cut installations at work. But if you only run it on one Mac at a time, you’re okay.
Once again, software is different than music. Back when I got my first Mac (I had always had to use ones at school or work until then), I was lucky enough to have won a full copy of the app I needed most, Aldus PageMaker. I won it at Macworld Boston. I was such a happy clam. But had I needed to buy it? It would have been a huge burden back then. I would not have been able to pay cash, and my credit card did not have the horrifyingly extravagant limit they seem to toss at us all these days. In essence, I would have found a way to pirate the software. I needed it, I used it, but I was not a rich company or corporation who could afford to actually buy it.
Fifteen years later, though I have a better-paying job and I’m on my 4th Mac (yes, Macs do last that long!), I’m not sure how much I’d be willing to shell out a huge chunk of cash for something I really use. I would consider dropping the $1,300 for Final Cut Studio because I know Apple’s DRM is not horribly limiting. Adobe, however, is another matter. Adobe has become a company run by sales guys instead of actual people and, therefore, their software design and functionality have suffered and their DRM scheme is vile. I’d be very hard-pressed to shell out $900 for the standard version of Creative Suite.
Back when CS 2 came out, Adobe decided it would be a great idea to have the software feed your reg code out to their servers and marry that particular machine to that code, meaning you can not install that software and use that code on any other machine. Right, okay, it sounds perfectly legitimate on the surface, but, really, come now… What a pain it has been at work when we get rid of a machine and find—OOPS!—that we can’t register a new machine with an older code because we forgot to unregister the code form the old machine. And so on. You see how annoying that can be. And unregistering a machine is not as easy with Adobe as it is with iTunes.
If I ever were to have three Macs in my personal service at once, I can install (but not run) Final Cut on them at any time. That’s acceptable to me. Here’s my money. Adobe would force me to have to install three copies of Creative Suite on my three personal Macs. Screw you, gents. I’ll “find” it elsewhere.
DRM is simply commerce vs. use. Edgar and his ilk would love, love, love to charge us all a fee every single time we move a song from disc to computer to iPod to Apple TV. And Edgar would charge something like $2.99 for a “good” song each time, when, really, even asking consumers to do that at the 99¢ iTunes price is a gouge. I dislike DRM because I dislike corporate greed. I get more fed-up with companies in the U.S. every year as I see them change little things here and there that, in the end, build up to more money for them and less product or convenience for those that they purport to serve.
I linked to it above, but I link to it again: Daring Fireball’s amusing dissection of Macrovision’s CEO’s response to Steve. (Sorry for all the possessives.) Slimy, slimy, slimy, this guy. He could give a crap about consumers. All he wants is money.
Similarly, consumers who want to consume content on only a single device can pay less than those who want to use it across all of their entertainment areas—vacation homes, cars, different devices and remotely. Abandoning DRM now will unnecessarily doom all consumers to a “one size fits all” situation that will increase costs for many of them.
Spoken like a true dimwad liar who has no clue what consumers really want. Make’s your stomach turn, eh?
Steve Jobs is right. Music should be free of DRM. Movies, probably, too. See, as I’ve always said, the people who will pay for media will do so. Those who won’t, won’t, no matter the price. If you start to make the price too high and the DRM too restrictive ($4.99 for crappy games for my Nokia… that I can’t backup or save or move to a new phone????), you’ll lose people, like myself, who are willing to pay. But no. In their minds, these corporate leaders see us all as flush with disposable cash that will all be earmarked for their multimedia product! Insane.
I hope Steve Jobs wins on this one. Gosh, what a great day that would be for people who actually buy and enjoy music!