Friday, April 06, 2007

Another Reason To Be A Steve Jobs Fanboy

As most of you know, I'm boycotting the RIAA because they're suing customers. (The latest is that they're suing a 10 year old girl who's disabled mother is on Social Security, for file sharing she allegedly did when she was 7. Come on! suing a 10 year old girl!? That's low.)

One of the other things major record companies do is putting DRM (Digital Rights Management) on their music when selling online. I think this is more dumb than it is evil.

What is DRM? It's encoding of a music file to prevent sharing of said file. The encoding takes into account the computer that owns the file. iTunes Music Store, until now, has DRM'd all their music. So if I buy a song from iTunes Music Store, it's encoded and will only play on my computer, my iPod, and up to 4 other computers that I authorize. Oh yeah, and on those computers the song can only be played in iTunes.

The idea behind DRM is that it makes the song impossible to copy so I can't give it to anyone over the internet. But it isn't that simple in reality. First of all, I can burn the song to a CD, then rip ("to rip a CD" means to copy the songs onto your computer into a file format, such as MP3) the song off the CD into MP3 format onto my computer. Then I can share it. Or I can just buy the CD and rip the music off of that.

Right now music bought on services, such as iTunes Music Store, makes up such a small minority that DRM probably doesn't make any difference to "illegal" file sharing. Steve Jobs doesn't seem to think so, anyway.

Today's article explains how iTunes Music Store will start to sell EMI songs, DRM-Free. It's a tiny bit more expensive than DRM'd songs, but it's also at a higher recording bit rate, meaning higher quality.

Both Apple and EMI should be applauded for this. But I find myself in a difficult position. My first instinct is to run home and buy some DRM-free EMI tracks from iTunes Music Store to show them my support for this move. But then I'm still supporting the RIAA. Perhaps I need to do a temporary suspension of my boycott.


Aaron said...

I think you've fallen for one of the oldest PR tricks in the book Andrew.

OK, DRM is bad and a breach of everyone's rights - on that we agree. The fact that we pay for a product that we cannot use freely is like being shafted from behind.

So Apple/EMI decide to release DRM-free music and double the bitrate for an extra 0.30. Hmmmm.

There is no removal of DRM, it is a completely different product. If you bought DRM music it remains DRM unless you pay extra to upgrade.

Apple/EMI have dangled a higher bitrate red herring in front of your face and shafted you from behind again!

Steve Jobs is a very VERY crude PR man and for that he should be admired. I wouldn't be his fanboy though.

Andrew said...

I'm not sure how I've fallen for a trick here....

When DRM'd music was being sold the only people complaining were nerds like me. No record execs would listen to us to tell them how to do their jobs, considering in their eyes, we'd be complaining that we couldn't freely share the music.

Then Steve Jobs comes along and says "DRM sucks!" Now, this is the guy who brought Apple off of life-support, who revolutionized the way we use computers, who revolutionized the digital music industry. He, unlike me and my nerd peers, is worth listening to.

EMI decided to try it out. Yes it's at a higher bitrate. (Keep in mind lots of people complained about the low bitrate of songs bought on iTunes.) Because of the higher bitrate, possibly in small part due to inflation, and probably some compensation for some supposed sharing, the price is a little higher.

One of Steve Jobs' goals in most of what he sells is that it has to be as simple as is humanly possible. If you've ever used an Apple after Windows or Linux, you know this is true. The iTunes music store: every song is 99 cents. Period. It's in DRM'd AAC format. Period. Simple. No confusion.

With the doubling in bitrate, to download a song, it will be a lot larger than the smaller bitrate song. This requires more bandwidth. Bandwidth costs money. True, probably not that much, but it is a consideration.

Having read Steve Jobs' letter to the community I'd gamble that the higher price was asked for by EMI. I'd also have to guess that Jobs' said to that "Hmmmm......if we raise the price, people won't want to pay extra for something they think they should have in the first place. We need to sell the customer something about a higher bitrate?"

The way this is being done also keeps confusion down to a minimum. You set, in your settings, what music you'd rather buy, DRM'd or DRM-free.

Bottom Line: EMI, the third largest record company, is offering DRM-free music on iTunes.

Other labels may follow. (Hopefully there won't be a coincidental surge in file sharing in the next little while.)

True, there's no removal of DRM, DRM isn't applied to those files. Don't pay to upgrade. Burn a CD, then rip it.

The point is: you can get non-DRM'd music from iTunes.

I'm still not sure how they're giving me the shaft. They're offering a higher quality product at a slightly higher price. That's free-enterprise economics for you.