The recent tussle between Apple and Jon Lech Johansen, in which Johansen circumvents the iTunes Music Store’s digital rights management (DRM) scheme and Apple responds by changing that scheme to thwart Johansen’s efforts, has re-ignited the sometime contentious debate over the rights of consumers versus those who earn their livelihood by providing goods to those consumers. A glance at our forums provides a look at how the more extreme positions of this argument shake out. If I may cut through the sometime endless verbiage and condense the two arguments:
If you support Apple’s insistence on applying DRM to the music it sells, you’re a corporate lackey.
If you insist that the traditions of Fair Use demand that you be allowed unfettered use of the music you buy from Apple, you’re a whiner and, likely, a thief.
While I understand that adherence to blindly ideological positions is de rigueur in this country, I’d like to introduce a measure of reality (and practicality) into the conversation.
To the Lackeys:
Apple has made the point that when you purchase music from the iTunes Music Store, you own it. In the past, said ownership meant that—short of bootlegging the music you purchased or broadcasting it publicly without paying for the privilege—you were welcome to play that music where you liked, on the players of your choice. Generous as I believe Apple’s DRM to be, it does limit you. For example, music purchased from the iTunes Music Store can’t be played on Slim Devices’ Squeezebox, Roku Labs’ SoundBridge, or streamed from a TiVo PVR to a computer using the service’s Home Media Option. Sure, you can burn your purchased music to CD and re-rip it in iTunes to convert the music to a form compatible with these devices, but this is hardly convenient and some people don’t care for the quality of the recording after it’s been put through this process.
Apple has the ability to open its protected music format to other entities. Doing so might stop some of the complaints.
To the Whiners and Thieves:
While it’s comforting to cling to the Good Old Days, broadband has dramatically altered the musical landscape. In the past an individual might dub a half dozen mix tapes and pass them along to friends or likewise distribute a few copies of a favorite CD. Today, one can easily (and nearly anonymously) distribute thousands of copies of an album online.
This is a concern for an industry that hopes to make money from its property. To address that concern, the music industry would surely like to make music that can’t be copied by any means—one need only look at the industry’s successful efforts to cripple Digital Audio Tape (DAT) recorders in the 80s to understand that it puts its welfare above that of consumers. But the industry’s support for the iTunes Music Store and Apple’s fairly flexible DRM hints that it understands the reality of the situation. Digital distribution of music is the future and if the industry wants a part of that future, it has to adapt and allow consumers a reasonable measure of ownership.
I might suggest that you W&Ts consider adapting as well. Railing against the music industry protecting its interests is about as effective (and satisfying) as protesting federal policy from 2000 to 2004 because of the circumstances surrounding George W. Bush’s election.
You may not like it. You may wish that we could apply the same standards as were used in the days before the Internet. But like death, taxes, and the Bush presidency, it’s reality. If you have a better alternative to schemes like Apple’s DRM that protects the rights of consumers and artists, the world is anxious to hear it.