DRM, A Slow And Painful Death To Your Music

DRM is supposed to stand for Digital Rights Management, however, the music industry seems to think it stands for Digital Restrictions Mandate. Pay careful attention to this because it radically changes basic concepts of purchasing and playing music. I am sorry if my words seem a little crude, but I just can't candy-coat this. We are all being screwed by the music business, AGAIN, and most people don't even realize what is going on. If you buy digital music from iTunes, or any download service that uses any form of DRM, then the music that you think you bought will not be yours for long. I can almost guarantee that you will not be able to play that music in a few years.

The music vendors, RIAA, and the rest of the recording industry are spending a lot of money on misinformation campaigns to lead us to believe that there is no problem and we shouldn't be concerned. The fact is that this DRM crap only benefits the people who sell music and it absolutely screws the honest consumers who pay for their music downloads. You might think that the only people who would have a problem with DRM are the people who make illegal copies of music and other digital works. Not so; honest people who pay for their music are finding out that the music that they bought is worthless when they upgrade or replace hardware or get a new music player. DRM has a multitude of problems and the people who are making money off it know it. They aren't doing much about it because they have some expectation that they are going to increase their profits, not only by getting people to pay for downloads as they should, but also by trapping people into paying for the same music multiple times as they get new equipment.

I can understand the music industry's motives. The artist should be paid for their work and downloaders should pay for what they download. However, it is difficult to be sympathetic towards record companies that have been gouging us in numerous ways for many years. A decade long investigation in the 1990's by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into record company price fixing exposed the artificially high price of CDs compared to other media. Then in 2000, it was revealed that the record companies were penalizing big retailers who sold music at a discount. In a May 2000 the FTC said "Music consumers may have overpaid more than a half a billion dollars for new CDs in recent years because of illegal arrangements by five major US record companies." See this May 11, 2000 article from the Chicago Sun-Times for more information. These are just some of the more obvious examples of the sordid history of record company greed. To make matters worse, they only share a small portion of the revenues with the artist.

The record companies are back to their old tricks now. With no concern for people who pay their hard-earned money for music, they are vastly devaluating the products. When you go to the store and buy a CD you can play it at home, in your car, in your boom box, on your walkman or on any other cd player. And further more, you own the CD forever and can play it forever, and then pass it on to your kids and your grandkids. You can even sell the CD if you get tired of it. When you buy a song from an online store you are likely to get a file that has restrictions about which computer and which devices you can play it on. And what's worse, when those devices are replaced you have to pay for the music again. To be fair, some of them do allow a few copies to be made, but you will eventually run out of copies and lose your files. Don't underestimate how much this can cost you over a few years.

I still have my CD collection from the 1980's. I also have a number of unprotected Mp3 files that I have ripped from those CDs. I will probably have those CDs for as long as I live, and my kids may even keep some of them long after I am gone. My Mp3 files are good for as long as I want them, because I keep backup copies just like I keep backup copies of all of my computer files. My daughter has downloaded hundreds of dollars worth of online music that has DRM built in to it. Even though I backup her computer, the music will not play on another computer. So her music is hers for as long as that computer works and she doesn't get a new portable device. At some time she will have to purchase the music again if she wants to keep listening to it. How fair is that!

I ran across a problem with some Windows Media Player files a few months ago. I replaced the motherboard in my computer and all of my DRM licenses became invalid. Fortunately I had backed up my DRM licenses using the utility that came with Windows Media Player 9. Unfortunately the files could not be played on the upgraded computer even after the licenses were restored. Microsoft said I should contact the online store to issue new licenses. The online store said they couldn't issue new licenses without paying for them again. Well, it was only a few files and nothing important, so I dropped it. Not worth the fight. Also, how many people do you think are aware that they need to do a special backup of the DRM licenses? Not many, but it's a moot point now. Windows Media Player 11 does not allow you to backup your licenses. If you lose them or upgrade your computer then Microsoft says the solution is to have the online store issue new licenses. So now we are dependent on the online store's willingness to issue new licenses if you can get in touch with someone who cares.

Why am I writing about online music and DRM in a the Data Backup and Recovery blog? Because I have learned a shocking lesson. There is one type of computer file that you can't protect with good backup procedures. Music and video content that has DRM protection will eventually be lost and as of now there is nothing you can do about. You can't depend on a backup of your hard drive to save you from losing your valuable collections. My advice to you and the course of action than I am taking is to never pay for music or video's with DRM protection of any kind. I will only pay for music if it is in the Mp3 format, which doesn't have this DRM crap.

I am interested in hearing your opinions on this subject so please comment on this post. But don't try to convince me that DRM is not so bad. Anything that prevents me from making copies of files that I own is bad.

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