Diminishing DRM

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The word is starting to get out.

Consumers don’t care for Digital Rights Management (DRM), the various schemes devised to restrict media use and, allegedly, protect the rights of media owners and creators. While the major labels and studios have largely rejected efforts to unlock their media, significant cracks in the barrier to DRM-free content are starting to form.

EMI, for example, has allowed Apple and Amazon to sell its music without DRM. Universal Music, perhaps the toughest player among the majors, is selling some unprotected music on AmazonMP3 (though for what may be a limited time and for the likely purpose of putting pressure on Apple and the iTunes Store). And now Ian Rogers, general manager of Yahoo! Music, in a presentation before a collection of music executives, told said executives he was hopping off the copy-protection merry-go-round.

His presentation, Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses and Content vs. Context, dishes up a powerful dose of “nuh uh” to what was likely a less-than-receptive audience. And just how powerful was his message? Try this on for size:

If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I’ll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won’t let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don’t have any more time to give and can’t bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life’s too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.

That’s some serious push-back. Will the industry listen? To an extent, it already is. DRM in its arbitrary form where some flavors of media are locked down and others aren’t hasn’t stopped piracy and the EMI and Universal examples seem to hint that the music industry is looking for another way.

What that way will be, no one knows. Let’s hope it unfolds along the lines of Rogers’ concluding words:

Let’s envision the end state and drive there as quickly as possible. Let’s not waste another eight years on what is obvious today. Let’s build the tools of a healthy media Web and reward music-lovers for being a part of it.

This story, "Diminishing DRM" was originally published by PCWorld.

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