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The Great DRM Debate

12 Mar, 2007 By: Jessica Wolf

I've been reading comments from Apple's Steve Jobs and Yahoo Music's Dave Goldberg against digital rights management for music files.

People in the video industry may think this shows a lack of respect or value for intellectual property. But I see Jobs' point, and I mostly agree.

We're talking about music here. No one is suggesting video content be released free of DRM or anticopying technology. It never has been, even back in the VHS era.

Consumers never have thought they had an implied right to copy or disseminate video content.

But physical music has never been widely imbued with DRM — not CD, not cassettes, certainly not old vinyl LPs.

Let's just get this out of the way: It is wrong and illegal to rip and burn and disseminate copy after copy of an album. I am not sanctioning that.

But it isn't illegal to take a CD you legally buy and manage that content by ripping it to a portable device and having a digital file. It's not illegal to buy digital files from iTunes and burn them to a disc for your car.

Digital files are impermanent. Your iPod could get sick or your hard drive could crash. So a CD is a safeguard against losing your tunes. While the bulk of my music purchases still are on CD, the first thing I do is rip them to my iPod.

And that's Jobs' point. Most people fill their portable devices via their physical purchases, which have no DRM. So, why does DRM become such a big issue for the reverse process?

Ironically, Jobs was quiet about the most-restrictive DRM, which comes from his very Apple. Its FairPlay system makes it impossible to use iTunes downloads on a device other than an iPod. Smaller labels and indie musicians already release digital music with no DRM. If iTunes carries it, it adds its proprietary DRM to the file.

Jobs has a point, but it seems he wants it both ways. I don't think that will fly for consumers.

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