DRM gets a lot of heat about limiting consumer freedoms. It constricts the amount of times you can burn music, keeps you from sharing it with friends and locks you into a particular format. Really, it stifles your ability to enjoy music where you want, how you want, because of the argument that labels could lose sales over piracy. It marks you as a thief before you’ve committed a crime.
However, it’s become obvious that DRM is not in place to ease the concerns of label executives. Rather, DRM exists to keep you buying one specific player and media. I like iTunes and typically buy an album from the Music Store each month or so. But the Fairplay DRM that comes free with all my downloads is not included to stop me from distributing my downloaded music to my closest 6 billion buddies.
It exists to ensure that the next media player I purchase is an iPod. It exists to ensure that I continue to use iTunes as the center of my digital media. It exists to give Apple the “synergy” advantage that it depends on. Most Mac users call this the “Mac Experience.” Most people don’t really understand it. Mac users don’t understand why anyone would want it any other way, and they kind of have a point as this is pretty much key to the “it just works” way of doing things.
Apple is not the only guilty party, but it is the most popular guilty party. Apple has recently been the subject of a lawsuit regarding monopoly practices with digital media. This suit is pretty old, but it resurfaces and who knows? It might actually go somewhere.
So who are the real thieves? Is it Joe Consumer, who can’t wait to expose new people to brand new music from digital content providers, or is it these companies that decide that it’s in everybody’s best interest to continue using THEIR players and outlets? Why is it in my best interest to burn CDs of iTunes Music Store files from iTunes when Roxio’s Toast is just SO much better at it?
I can’t even burn TV shows and videos from iTunes onto a DVD to watch in my living room, and the only reason why it works that way is so that I have a reason to toss out my old iPod and get one with video capabilities.
But really, you’re a thief everywhere, online and off. How many retail stores have you been in lately that DON’T have electronic detection systems at their exits? How many of those stores had cameras all around? Ever get any weird looks from store owners/cashiers? What about those STUPID bag checks you have to endure before you even leave the store with your merchandise?
THIS is why people buy online. It’s why Amazon is so popular. We don’t have to put up with retail BS, and with digital music downloads we get instant gratification. The music retail stores going out of business today (among other businesses) are the ones that don’t understand how to create value out of nothing. They don’t understand that if they treat their customers the same way as the outlets then there’s no reason to go to support the little guy. I can’t have a conversation about the latest releases with staff at the big stores, so you better keep me informed and educated about the products you offer. If I’m not given an incentive to come back to your store (frequent buyer credit, store points) then I won’t. If I can buy a new CD at Best Buy for $9.99 and you sell it for $16.48 (<cough>Strawberry Fields</cough>), then you better make my shopping experience at your store worth $6.49. That’s how you compete.
Online and off, you’re treated as a thief anyway, except now when it comes to downloads you HAVE to come back to your provider. If I don’t like Best Buy (and I don’t) I can choose not to buy anything there. It’s not the same with DRM’d music. If I decide that the iTunes is not for me I can’t transfer the content to another player easily (I could burn and re-rip, but that just results in lower quality, and why would I want that?).
The only time you’re not being treated as a thief, ironically, is when you’re using P2P…until you get sued, of course.