back to article DRM-free music: EMI calls the tune and Apple takes the credit

Having been a big believer in DRM and its necessity, although dismissive of its inflexibility and lack of sophistication, we, Rethink Research, have to interpret the big news of last week that EMI will offer its catalog DRM-free, as at least dangerous and potentially disastrous. But that's only if it is looked at in the long …


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  1. Greg Nelson

    Pavlov's Potlatch

    EMI is demonstrating a well thought out understanding of strategy and tactics available to it. By offering a quality product at a higher price free of DRM, EMI demonstrates a viable approach others in the industry are seemingly, willfully blind to.

    Gregory Bateson in his book 'Mind and Nature' spoke from the dog's point of view when confronted with a Pavlovian experiment. Bateson outlined an experiment wherein a dog is presented with a choice between a circle and an ellipse. When a dog correctly chooses the circle the dog is rewarded. As the ellipse becomes more like a circle the dog becomes distraught and even vicious. Bateson's argument is that the dog was set in a context that informed it there was a choice to be made and then the context was slowly shifted from one of choice to a threshold where the context was one of guessing. The dog's 'misbehaviour' is misdiagnosed as bad temperament. Bateson carried his argument over to criminology wherein he explained most crime as actions set in social contexts. Theft of copyright, like all crime is social and the triggers are social and complex.

    The social context for much file sharing is like that of a Potlatch. The native peoples of the northwest Pacific coast held social events with the theme generally being one of giving and sharing. The context set by a Potlatch would bar DRM.

    DRM is a awkward blunt attempt to crash the party and extract a toll on partygoers. The Media Moguls' attempts to push legislation that is intended to penetrate a party atmosphere is Draconian and stupid. It makes everybody look bad.

    EMI has taken a road that allows it to extract it's toll at point of sale.Party on.

  2. OviB

    audio quality

    I repeatedly saw the assertion that the new 256Kbit/s AAC format from EMI / Apple means doubling the audio quality (I saw it even quoted from mr Jobs Himself).

    Well, this is absolutely incorrect (and it is a damaging misinformation of customers). Doubling the bitrate for AAC from 128 to 256 means *LITTLE* in audio quality - for most untrained years there is no difference (however - non DRM infection make a difference for a lot of people who may want to switch to a different player).

    Not that I don't mind the quality - I mind it - that's why I will never buy lossy format music. I highly encourage anyone that cares about quality to buy a non-lossy format and the best by far is the classical Audio CD. From that point you can get whatever format/bitrate you want - whenever you want and for ANY player.

    Or you may opt for buying the 256Kbit/s AAC now just to be lured in 2 or 3 years to upgrade to a newer-all-shinny-much-better 320kbit/s format that will work just on their players. Your money - your choice.

  3. sas

    Whats the problem?

    You started with a bold statement that going EMI going DRM free would be "dangerous and potentially disastrous". Maybe you could explain why, since I really can't see what the problem is.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    iTunes not the future

    There are currently moves within the central European government to force Apple to open up its iTunes technology to other hardware manufacturers to ensure that iTunes can be played on all hardware. Whilst companies may feel that they have a right to tie the music they sell to theiur own hardware, the European Union feels that this is anti-competitive, anti-innovation and unfair on consumers.

    EMI and Apple have simply seen which way the wind is blowing and have made this announcement to pre-empt future rulings that will make existing DRM on music downloaded from sites like iTunes pretty much useless in Europe. India, with its agressive policy against Western patents that impose rules on their people, is likely to follow and China and Russia couldn't care less about iTunes protecting its DRM system. By making this announcement Apple and EMI look good for doing something they would have to do soon anyway.

    I guess that they have a new system of DRM anyway. Europe may not like music and brands of players being tied together, but it may be more accepting of systems that tie consumers and music together. Expect a change in the way DRM works in the near future.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bah, noob

    You're missing the point.

    a) removing DRM but retaining nasty container formats that noone else plays makes little difference to who will buy music from iTunes. If you have a non-Apple player, be it hardware or software, AAC is not the format you want to buy music in. Especially if you're one of the huge drooling mass of Apple users who couldn't tell a container format from a codec.

    "You can convert it" scream the fanbois, but who wants to convert it? Why can't these jokers just sell the damn stuff in FLAC or at least ogg or mp3 in the first place? Why should I as a music fan want to buy a file I can't play and then spend time and effort converting it (with quality loss to boot) when I can just go download a release that some warez scene pirate has lovingly ripped it and released it in a nice playable format? For free, with no effort on my part other than hunting down the particular release.

    Selling crippled formats like AAC is not going to change anything. Whether it has DRM or not has no practical implications for the piracy of the music. Had they decided to sell for instance FLAC copies of the music instead, this would be something very different to the customer. They would be able to pay very little and get just as good of a product as if they'd pirated it. Most end-users think p2p downloading is a big hassle, and the industry could easily tap into that frustration by offering high quality products for a fair price: downloaded and in a completely open and common format.

    They have all so far failed to do so, EMI as well.

    b) "Gradually piracy should fall away" says you. Why? It will not, I guarantee it. However, more people might actually pay.

    c) "everyone still has Kazaa, or they can still get a copy of BitTorrent" .. Kazaa and most bittorrent warez trackers are the very last place pirated materials end up. The scene groups that release pirated materials as a "sport" do not mess around with end-user P2P software like this, they never have. All these networks do is make it easy for "end users" (i.e. completely clueless noobs) to download this stuff, even though they really have no more computer skills than required to surf a web page. Meaning, you can shut down Kazaa and the likes, but all that will happen is that the consumer stage of piracy is affected. The piracy as such continues, and it is just a matter of time before the tech-savvy once again enable their clueless friends the opportunity to partake in delicious warez without learning how to do a TLS-encrypted FXP race to boost your ratio on that 0day FTP site. You can build a dam, but you can't stop the river.

    d) "Video comes with CSS protection, which although it is thought of as weak encryption protection, at least it takes a serious minded pirate to undo CSS, and put video in the clear".

    To me, this indicates again that the author is not grasping the point. CSS does not take a serious minded pirate to undo. It takes a briefly trained monkey to do a quick google search, download a small program and click a button or two. It does, however, take a savvy person to convert that into a more elegant format than a bunch of ripped VOB files IF top notch quality is a concern. For the average person though, the only thing that matters is getting that 4,5GB mess down to a size that one or two cdroms can hold. And that is quite easy. (most) pirates spens lots of time and take lots of pride in creating perfect rips. An amateur could achieve 90% of the quality of the seasoned ripper with a single click in a simple piece of software.

    This means that DVDs do NOT protect their content any better than say an un-DRMed CD or AAC files bought from ITMS. See, it only takes ONE experienced ripper to pirate something. After that, the cat is out of the box for good and nothing can undo it. It doesn't matter to EMI or anyone else if they sell their files locked in obnoxious formats or not, as long as someones able to rip it (that is, convert it to a commonly playable format like xvid video or ogg vorbis audio) they WILL make their way onto the mainstream end-user p2p scene. That scenes' file base is populated not by individual end users sharing the files THEY bought. They share the files that have already been pirated and given to them by, eventually, those above them in the piracy food chain. Theres been an awful lot of speculation on the "cracks" of the new video disc formats. What seems to be missing from most analysis though is that fact of "one ripper - many copies". If a movie is ripped from those formats ONCE, it doesn't matter what security schemes are in place. That movie is forever pirated and while the MPAA could try to stifle the spread of the pirated release, they just can't ever hope to regain complete control of that release. Even if they had a self-destruct device that exploded every legally sold release ever the pirated version would still be there and it would make its way around the world no matter what anyone does. It would make a lot more sense to just do what the pirates does before they get a chance. That means, use the latest and greatest of formats and technology to create files with the best quality per size unit possible while still keeping to established formats such as flac, ogg, xvid, h264, matroska and so forth, and make it availiable for fast download. Unlike the pirates, the industry could charge for those download links.

    RIAA and the like can spend eternity hunting noobs on the p2p networks, but they can't and won't catch the people who are way in the background spending their best years ripping music and movies and software, only to give it away for free, with fame and notoriety as the only possible reward (except free leech).

    What all of this implies in my opinion is that the record labels and movie studios can either a) continue to try to "stop piracy" in the same manner as before (i.e. very unsuccsessfully) or b) try to compete with the pirated versions for value and exploit the fact that the vast masses of noobs/end-users would actually not mind paying IF the price was fair and the product was good.

    If you could chose: spend anything from 30 seconds to eternity hunting that piece of music/film you wanted in perfect quality from p2p networks or torrent trackers, or just pay a relatively small fee (say 20% of what it would cost to buy on a physical media) and get an instant download link. What would you chose? I've been a so-called pirate since I was old enough to read and write. Let me just point out that when the warez scene started out, people were using snail mailed envelopes stuffed with copied floppies and printed or even hand written lists of warez.

    The industry can hope to stifle the ease of access for the average music consumer, but for the passionate few who are really the warez type, they have not a prayer. The best advice they could take is to compete with the pirates at their own game rather than try to eradicate them.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PNP networks

    PnP networks are used for piracy - as you point out.

    But the following has to be considered as well: On PnP networks one finds a very workable index of recorded music that is found nowhere else that I am aware of.

    For example, if I want to know who recorded Mack the Knife and I go to legit music sites, I am probably going to find versions by Robbie Williams and Robbie Williams and Robbie Williams. Because the music companies reckon he will sell.

    What I will NOT find, is the information that Mack the Knife was recorded by Lotte Lenya, Sting and even Bertolt Brecht himself!

    I am NOT interested in the Robbie Williams version.

    I AM very interested in the Brecht and the Lenya versions.

    That information is disregarded by the legit music sites as well as the recordings themselves.

    Till legit music sites will give us a decent index of all recordings and not only those that they think will sell well, PnP sites will actually have a very good use.

    And I am here not even referring to music that has no copyright anymore.

    There was a recording of Dylan Thomas poems made by the actor Richard Burton. I still have the LP. Do a test and try to find and buy those recordings in digital format on the net. It just does not exist in the commercial realm on the net.

    But it is probably available on a PnP site somewhere.

  7. Jared Earle

    Advert as Journalism?

    Hmm. I'm looking for the news and all I see is a smidgen of self-publicising-as-news ...

    Oh well, it's very much part-and-parcel of what El Reg has become over the past few years, I suppose. Still, I still read it, so it's not gone all that bad yet.

  8. Rob Dunford

    Long term damage?

    In the first paragraph, the author tells us that the long term results of this move are "at least dangerous and potentially disastrous". But there seems no where in the article to support this comment.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A little analysis please.

    There is tons of description and dubious speculation with barely any analysis in this article. Just adding to the confusing and confused noise about DRM - waste of time!

  10. jon e

    DRM is useless - and industry is finally noticing

    DRM free music and players are actually really common with a well established market - it's called a compact disc - you can pick one up at almost any music store ..

    I thought the point of distributing DRM free music was simply to try and level the playing field between CD distribution and online distribution. Anyone can take a CD and simply encode to make DRM free rips of higher quality than what any online music vendor is selling - Apple and EMI are just looking to cash in on the latest FUD by making more easily distributable DRM free rips and selling for more money. I think the ultimate goal at some point is to completely replace plastic CDs with some form of bit moving, but that's not going to happen until the market for CD distribution shrinks

  11. Dillon Pyron

    So is DRM dead?

    Here's what we have. For roughly 30% more, you get tracks at much higher quality with no DRM. Good. Or, you can buy the same tracks at lower quality for the original price with no DRM. Or you can subscribe (rent) those tracks for an incalcuable price with DRM. Or you can still buy lower quality tracks at the original price with DRM.

    Some of those models are going to work. Others will drag on with some sembalance of life. Others will die a painful death. But one thing is certain. In the short run EMI and Apple have a revenue stream. You can bet that EMI isn't getting all of that 30%.

    Will DRM free cuts be pirated? It depends on the ethos of the buyer. CDs are ripped and shared, in my personal opinion, partly as a way to "put it to the man". I don't buy CDs because there are one or possibly two good tracks and 8 or 10 crap tracks. So I'll buy the cuts off of iTunes, as I've done for the last three years. At a cost of $2.15 (with tax), I'm saving anywhere from $11 to $13. Will I pay $2.80 for those two EMI tracks? You bet. Will I share. Hell no, spend your own money for those two tracks. Or blow $15 for a CD you'll throw away in an hour.

    Will there still be pirates? Look at the Horn of Africa. Of course there will still be people willing to take chances, but as the grow up, get out of school, get a job and have more to lose (the RIAA will always get the ISPs to rollover and play dead) they'll start buying. And a new generation will grow up rejecting the album concept altogether.

    iTunes started a process that will take another 5 or 6 years to come to fruition. The record companies just need to see that DRM is a dead concept, and the CD is just as dead.

    dillon in Tejas, who is trying to decide between spending $100 to replace the battery on his 20GB iPod and buying a new one.

  12. Andrew Abbass

    DRM is not useless

    DRM is not useless.

    If properly rolled out as a universal container format, it could be integrated into a suite of applications that could be accessed from any portable media device.

    Books, games, music, video... any form of intellectual property could see a brand new distribution channel in the form of DRM.

    Microsoft and Shared Media Licensing have access to a wrapper format that disconnects the files from the client server relationship by placing the client info directly within the file itself.

    However, these two companies are currently at odds over who gets the percentages for maintaining the database.

    The truth is neither of these corps should get it. This format should be managed and maintain by a non-profit similar to ICANN for maximum playability across the board. Leave it open-book and let everyone know where the money is being spent and who its going to.

    DRM is a natural progression. But corporate taxation of the format is not a natural progression and should be eliminated as soon as possible.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Music is often passed arround.

    One form of p2p the author forgets about is people directly passing music files to each other, or lending CDs that get copied.

    Most people have several Gigabytes of music on their hard drives, some have over 100 Gb of it. If you go to a friend who has a large music collection and ask them to fill a USB hard drive with music, most people will agree. With a small amount of effort you can easily fill one of those 400Gb drives that PC world are pushing at the moment and much more quickly and easily than downloading it from peer to peer. The music will usually be of better quality as your friend(s) will have filtered out any crap.

    I suspect that these days far more back catalogue music is shifted this way than by p2p over the internet.

  14. Jacob Smith


    "EMI will offer its catalog DRM-free,[is] at least dangerous and potentially disastrous."

    Where do you qualify this statement? You have written the entire article based on the assumption that DRM is a good thing, but you never state what makes it so.

    Please follow up with the reasoning on this assumption.

    Until you do, I shall file this away as "FUD."

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DRM really IS useless

    The trouble with any DRM system is that it is exceedingly vulnerable to reverse engineering. When you distribute a DRM'd title it a bit like giving someone a locked box with a big sign on it saying "Do not open". Trouble is, the key it taped underneath the box.

    While it may take some time and effort to find the 'key', I'm fairly sure that, for any DRM system, the key will be found. As far as I know, every single DRM system yet devised has been cracked, usually within weeks of it hitting the streets.

    So, whatever the political rights and wrongs of DRM, as a technical solution to 'piracy' its a complete non-starter. It doesn't work. It can't work.

  16. Rich Harding

    Pull the other one, Faultline... goes "tring-a-ling" ;)

    You were wrong; anyone with a brain was right. For further details, see the post entitled "Bah, noob".

    Even Marillion fans got in a huff over a recent DRM-infected, download-only single, and we're readily acknowledged in the industry as a) some of the most ludicrously obsessed anoraks in the known universe and b) having been in the vanguard of the internet music revolution (to anyone doubting that last comment, get this - a band that has spent the last twenty years being ridiculed and rejected and that still sells over 100,000 units per album; thank God for the internet ;) ).

  17. Glenn Amspaugh

    AAC is not an Apple format

    For folks upset that Apple isn't selling songs in an open format like mp3, FLAC or Ogg, but is using the 'crippled Apple format' of AAC, um, AAC is an open standard. It's a variety of MP4 and is supported on players from Sony, SanDisk, several cell phone brands and others all play AAC files.

    My diesel car doesn't use gasoline. Darn those stations that don't carry fuel for the car I chose to drive.

    My Mac doesn't run .exe applications. Darn those developers that don't code for hardware I've chosen to use.

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