back to article Music DRM 'dead by next summer'

Killing DRM is saving digital music, reckons British retailer 7Digital. The company says DRM-free music sales now outnumber sales of DRM-enumbered music by 4:1 , and credits EMI with the shift. Removing the locks and keys also helps shift albums, with 70 per cent of MP3 sales by value being full albums. A recent report …


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  1. Mark

    Where's the scathing commentary?

    Or even just the commentary?

    Is this why you opened this one for comments? Nothing said so you figure it's safe?

  2. Aitor

    320 Kbps? -> better 600-700 lossless

    Quality is not what they sell. To use a lossy compression algorith on an already compressed track (remember: volume war) does not seem to me as "quality oriented".

    Why don't them sell tracks using lossless codecs? There are a few, and they reduce the size of the track to about 60-40% of the original size. They could be played with winamp or compressed by the user to suit his needs.

  3. John Lettice (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Where's the scathing commentary?

    Sheesh. On the one hand, howls of 'Sack him!', on the other, complaints about there being nothing to complain about. Oddly, the last 'sack him' I got was from somebody called Mark, too. Suspicious? (-:

  4. Mo

    AAC not universal?

    While strictly true, it's stretching things a bit, isn't it? Pretty much every player sold in the past few years supports AAC (not least because the licensing costs are lower than for MP3).

  5. Cameron Colley

    Re: 320 Kbps? -> better 600-700 lossless

    With today's pop-tastic crap, and tiny, tinny, mobile phone speakers I don't think the pop-buying public care.

  6. Joe


    The key here is the magic ".mp3" at the end of the filename - even my grandma knows what this means, and she died in 1987. Those lossless codecs are nowhere near as well-known as MP3.

    "Compressed by the user to suit his needs" - do you really think the average person even understands what the hell compression is or how it works?

    MP3 = it will play, but it!

    "FLAC" = what?!

    No flame intended, just friendly discussion!

  7. Steve

    Why Not Lossless...

    WAV downloads will come and indeed some outlets already sell in that format, but as for FLAC and all the rest that audiophiles constantly email me about to ask why we aren't selling its simple - they may work, they may be great, but 98% of the customers have no idea how to use them, MP3 will work for everyone and play on the default media player of all the common OS's and given that most people will play the downloads on a pair of headphones or speakers that cost less than 30 quid you can guarantee they won't notice the compression @ 320kbps. The whole problem of digital music is it has to date been to complex - MP3 takes that complexity away. Yes it doesn't please all audiophiles, but then again CD never pleased them either so it was never going to. Also worth noting that most people only know of FLAC because they download bit torrent albums in the format, I think the chance of a sale has already passed by that point. No doubt if we started selling in FLAC or the like, another group would pop up demanding 24-Bit

  8. Matt Brigden

    And will the player makers unshackle our hardware ?

    Not damned likely lol . I have a philips and if you use the supplied software it takes an eon and then some to transfer an album over as the DRM has to chop the file into fragments and then splatter them across the drive. Remove the drm infested program and use a non shackled prog like dbPoweramp and it transfers in half the time . Doing it by the book is like swimming through glue .

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I challenge you to tell the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and the original WAV on anything but the highest-end equipment (even then it'll probably depend on your soft furnishings). Say what you like but 9.9/10 cats can't tell the difference. Moreover, in lossless the compression ratio certainly depends heavily on the type of music. Classical compresses fantastically well, but heavily distorted metal does not. When you try to approximate what is essentially white noise using a sum of sine waves, the residuals tend to be quite large! You're lucky to get 80% with some bands... Still, I agree that it'd be nice to have the option in some cases.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Why don't them sell tracks using lossless codecs?"

    Because the average user wouldn't know the difference and if Windows Media Player can't play it out of the box, they don't want to know.

    Just guessing...

  11. Sterling Udell
    Thumb Up

    Why lossy?

    The article said it best - people know MP3 works everywhere. "Plays For Sure", to coin a phrase. They don't know that about ANY other codec.

    Besides, the losses in a 256kbps MP3 are inaudible to 99.999% of the public. Probably more in a true double-blind test, certainly for the bulk of music being recorded and sold today by the major labels.

    Sure, a lossless codec would be better - but better to have DRM-free MP3s than what's been available up until now, DRM'ed *and* lossy. One step at a time.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    If only....

    they had figured this out in 2000. It's ridiculous how long this has taken to come about, and if it takes until next summer that's at least five year's too late.

    What's annoying that - although the technology is there today - video downloading via bittorrent is probably at the same state where music downloading via Napster was in 1997.

    The moment I can download music without restrictions at a reasonable price - £5 an album, 80p per tracks - is the moment I get onboard. As of now, it's still too complicated, to pricey, and too much effort, so I will stick to downloading, with occasional CD purchases if the artist really is deserving.

    And I will continue to enjoy my Divx DVD-quality ad-free versiona of all UK and US TV programs via bittorrent without guilt, until the day they finally get their heads together on that.

  13. Giles Jones Gold badge


    I buy the original CD purely for the artwork and having full quality. There are some bands who have codes in the booklet that get you free mp3 track downloads on their site. You lose this buying the mp3 version.

    It wouldn't be much to have wav file downloads, a CD is about 650MB and that would take someone on broadband about an hour max to download.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Scathing commentary

    seems out of place at a funeral. Epitaphs for music are best kept brief. RIP (not an imperative, but an optative).

  15. Sergio Papini


    the DRM-Free downloads can outsell the DRM downloads, it makes sense that people that buy digital content want more freedom, that's hardly any news;

    the real question is, have the total number of purchases actually increased?

    if the numbers stay the same and only shift consists of the existing customers changing from a lousy (in my opinion) product, to a better one, then that's to be expected...

  16. Shaun R.

    FOTW was better

    Well, I've created a new account so that I can delete it in protest at the quality of your commenters. Until you sack this readership and hire a new one I shall not be registering again.

  17. b166er

    Mr Lettice

    It's just nice to be able to debate, even if that means you hacks get a flaming once in a while!

    @Music DRM 'dead by next summer', can (HD)DVD/BBC iPlayer protection follow it out the door please?

    Protection technologies grabbing coats, sharing taxis

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @John Lettice

    "Oddly, the last 'sack him' I got was from somebody called Mark, too. Suspicious? (-:"

    Was that the article about why people called Mark just plain suck? In Mark's defence, this is barely more than a press release and a lot more restrained than some of Orlowski's previous shillery.

  19. Rob

    @ John Lettice

    It's not surprising, really. AO commits the (to some) cardinal sin of engaging his brain before commenting on IP issues, rather than simply parroting the propaganda put out by the thieving gypsy bastards' - oops, sorry, that should have said "information wants to be free crowd's" well-oiled machine.

  20. James

    Response from the Wax Cylinder Industry Association

    This is an interesting but flawed piece of analysis. Ultimately it hinges on a single flawed assumption: the customer-criminal (or "custiminal") knows what it wants.

    The problem is, if you ask a custiminal what it wants, there will be one and only one answer: "We want to drive the WCIA out of business and dance on its executives' graves and exhume their ancestors and sexually desecrate their corpses." The music itself is an incidental benefit. Your average custiminal (an in fact that's the only kind, which is a huge benefit when it comes to profiling the market) cares more about drugs, blasphemy and insulting the crown than the format of music we cripple for it.

    Of course we would like to simply disconnect entirely with these lowlife hippies but by some tremendous quirk of demographics these anarchist scum somehow appear to make up the entirety of our market. How exactly this was allowed to happen in as few as 20 short years since those happy days when everyone loved what we told them to so much that they went out and bought it on vinyl as well as CD is under investigation.

    Rest assured, the WCIA is making every effort to return to the comfortable, profitable, executive-friendly status quo. As soon as government builds enough prisons we will simply buy a law which allows us to imprison all of our custiminals and replace them with a more docile "consumer" which only buys what we tell it to enjoy, and only in the formats we sanction. However we urge the government to act quickly as the revenue decline that the piracy crisis is forcing on us is such that I may have to forgo my quarterly Bentley re-goldplating this year and the time window for our "party support" is rapidly closing.

  21. Morely Dotes

    @ John Lettice

    I don't want AO sacked; he covers some interesting topics, and factually hsi coverage is good. On the other hand I won't be responding to anything he has to say directly again; the last exchange was adequate demonstration that his entire purpose was to demonstrate that he is all-knowing and that I am too ignorant to allowed to waste his valuable time.

    As for DRM aka Digital Rights Management: It's not, in the same way that "friendly fire" isn't. It's Technology Users' Rights Denial systems, which would be abbreviated TURDS.

    The real shocker is that the CD publishing industry took seven years to figure out that most people don't want to buy things with TURDS in.

  22. Matt Horrocks


    If they hadn't bothered sinking vast lumps of cash into the waste of space that is DRM in the first place then they'd probably be better off - 1) by not wasting money on pointless DRM, 2) as this shows people will pay for non-DRM digital media.

    The usual senior management being confused by technical issues. The fact is, if you can hear it with your ears then you can record/copy it, trying to stop this is a pointless waste of time.

    Hooray for the (hopeful) death of DRM!

  23. Bryce Prewitt

    AO is a bit extreme don't you think?

    Look, I agree that Andrew Orlowski can be a bit extreme in his opinions sometimes and he frequently uses his column as troll bait but all this Adults Only business is certainly non-sense. Why, he's not said one thing would should garner that rating! He's Teen at best. He doesn't even swear!

  24. Erp Erpington


    Regarding what format downloads should be in, the sad thing is that allofmp3 already had it figured out years ago. They had a system setup so that for most of the tracks they 'sold', you could choose your format. Vorbis, FLAC, pretty much any codec of note they offered.

    The most I'd be willing to pay for lossy-encoded music is maybe $2-3 per album. And even then, I'd probably still just stick with whatever I can download from a p2p network. Lossless encodes, on the other hand, I'd be willing to pay double that price for, and maybe more.

  25. Daniel B.


    mp3's sell well for the same reason DRM-free, Redbook Standard CD's sell well: they run everywhere. (Well my Fedora 6 installation didn't, but that was solved downloading a player.) Most car stereos now recognize mp3's, some even can read from USB Flash memory; my Sony Ericcson plays them, etc, etc.

    Meanwhile, I once downloaded an entire album in OGG format, which resides somewhere in my Linux filesystems because there is the only place I could hear them. FLAC? I don't even know how to play that ;)

    Maybe a good service might be based on the erstwhile allofmp3 service, you select desired format, desired quality; they encode it and you download it. Everyone's happy! :)

  26. Colin Sharples
    Jobs Halo


    You used the wrong icon, mate...

    Don't be shy.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I do so love the WCIA. ^_^

    And anyway lossless I have to echo the fact that a good 70% of the population doesn't know the difference between a 128bit and a 256bit song. One of my buddies does - and he's a freak.

    DRM is stupid and always has been stupid. Just like spying on potential customers and not modifying your business model to keep up with modern technology.

    Anyway I do think that the jouno bashing is a bit OTT


  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I acknowledge

    I may have used the wrong thingies for songs kbits is it?

    Bah who cares. Mono - Stereo - Surrond. Anyway people fail for buying this junk although a nice open easy to buy from j-pop place would be nice and legit companies that subbed and distro'd anime and j-drama would be good too (3 years to never gonna happen for most series via American companies ATM or 1 day to 1 month via fansubbers (and they do HD).) Not everyone likes Western pop or "alternative" culture.


  29. A. Lewis

    @Coward (If only...)

    That's an impressive sense of entitlement you've got there.

    It's ok for you to illegally download because the music/TV industries don't get you? You're on some more advanced plane and once everyone else gets there you will grudgingly welcome them?

    I'd wager that last part isn't true, by then I'm sure you'll have escalated (as most hardened criminals do) and be justifying something else by saying "they just don't get me".

  30. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Call me old-fashioned...

    but I'll continue to by physical CDs unless and until I can buy full-sample .wav (or equivalent lossless compressed) of an entire album, with some sort of guarantee that it can be replaced if I crash my storage.

    Be nice if they stopped making 'CDs' that don't meet the specs, mind; EAC can get quite annoyed at some of these 'protected' variants.

    And yes, I *can* tell the difference between 320k mpeg and 1440k pcm; it's my job.

  31. Steve Green


    You say that 320 kbps MP3 is good enough for the vast majority of people, but are the majority of music download services offering quality as high as 320 kbps MP3? DRM-protected AAC on iTunes is a measly 128 kbps, and the large majority of music download services don't use quality as high as 320 kbps MP3 from what I can gather.

    Also, I think lossless will become more and more popular over time (will anybody need to use lossy audio compression when we've all got 4TB+ hard drives??), so I think you should look at offering lossless at least as an option for people in the near future.

  32. Edward Pearson

    No surprise.

    There's no surprise there then, only the consumers suffered.

    From the point of view of an illegal distributor or music (somebody who does their own music releases on BT or Newsgroups etc):

    Early on, when the DRM adoption was high, if you REALLY had to get an album with DRM on it (which was easy to avoid, even then) then you'd have to go through the trouble of playing it, and rerecording each track.

    Later on, tools were released, which provided you had the correct license installed, would allow you to strip away the DRM and produce a clean audio/video file.

    There was nothing that would actually stop the baddies stripping away the DRM and releasing the content. If you could listen to it, or watch it, then you had the raw material and you could copy it.

    Thus only the consumers suffered, unable to transfer music to new devices, and having to deal with tedious software installs which often didn't work, made DRM a recipe for disaster.

  33. Golden Ears
    Jobs Horns

    It's got to be mp3

    FLAC is a load of rubbish. Plays on hardly anything. A dead format despite so-called "audiophiles" raving about it. The files are way too big ( about 50% of the original PCM file ) If you look at the portability, download speeds and ease of use, which are the main issues, it's got to be mp3. . For the majority of music, 192k VBR ( Variable Bit Rate ) sounds pretty close to a CD. Well, for most people, I think even 128kb is good enough. They can't tell the difference.

    Mastering nowadays squashes all of the dynamics out to make it as loud as possible, and actually ADDS digital distortion, anyway.

    { I just want to clarify to Aitor that (audio)"compression" used during mastering , is not the same as (digital) "compression" used to make an mp3.

    Audio compression cuts the dynamics / digital compression discards ( to most people ) inaudible and therefore useless frequencies}

    If you really want a true rendition, buy the CD and encode it yourself. Or just play the CD ! Most people just want to download a song into their iPod and have it available to play wherever they want with the least amount of hassle.

    If you want to listen to lute concertos on your 8,000 quid electro static speakers, then mp3 is probably not the way forward for you. You should get an SACD player ( or a girlfriend :-) )

    Oh, yeah ! ... and back to the main point : DRM is complete rubbish, as are most attempts to shackle music. It's just a pain in the arse for consumers ( see the Sony copy protect CDs debacle ), and less scrupulous people will always find a way to work around it.

  34. Vulpes Vulpes

    hmmm, lots of balls about file formats.

    A couple of points.

    DRM has always been about keeping the lawyers happy, nothing more or less than a sop to greedy sharks with accountants.

    I object to being told that I know about FLAC (orSHN) because I've probably had to find out about it due to my piratical torrenting. Nope. If you think like that you've probably never heard of, and have NO RIGHT to post pontificating bollocks in a discussion about music downloads.

    FLAC is rubbish? Nope. You are at best misinformed, but more likely just stupid.

    I can't tell the difference between a 320 MP3 and the full frequency uncompressed WAV version? Oh yes I can.

    192K VBR sounds pretty much like the CD? Nope, it sounds crap. Do you only listen to Goth metal or Radiohead? Do you have CLOTH EARS?


  35. Fred


    Agree with Edward Pearson. But if drm-protection doesn`t allow me to listen music where I want I choose converter (for example MelodyCan).

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