Defending DRM?

June 25, 2005

Engadget has up an interesting editorial — “In Defense of DRM“.

An unpopular position, to be sure. Their point is that, were it not for DRM, we wouldn’t have options to buy individual tracks, nor would we see the current widespread growth of Internet radio.

If you can get past your visceral negative reaction, you’ll quickly see that DRM has actually brought consumers more advancements than restrictions. In truth, the hatred of DRM is a product of its own success; without the added options which DRM brings to the table there would be little to rebel against.

Sorry, but these arguments seem like bullsh*t to me.

Music by the track was happening with or without DRM. To be sure, it had only started with independent artists, and DRM encouraged all of the labels to play.

If that hadn’t happened, however, I don’t think we really know what would have happened. I think it’s quite likely we’d have seen an even bigger exodus of disgruntled artists from the major labels, selling their own downloads without DRM.

Likewise, the record labels worked overtime trying to kill the early independent streaming audio stations. If that hadn’t have happened, who knows that those early pioneers wouldn’t be the online music powerhouses instead of the DRM’d to death Windows Media stations and their ilk?

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2 Responses to “Defending DRM?”

  1. Stephen Speicher on June 25th, 2005 6:56 pm

    There is no doubt that Indy performers might have released non-DRM’d content. Heck, they still do. However, the real power came when the consumer was given a place (iTunes) where s/he could find nearly *all* the commercial music in *one* place. I seriously doubt that we would have that easy of use without DRM.

    Don’t get me wrong; given a choice I would prefer not to have DRM’d content. I’m just guessing that without DRM’s ability to convince the major labels to put their content online, we would be a clusterf*&k of a situtation right now. CDs would still reign supreme and we wouldn’t have access to nearly the number of single songs that we do today.

    Even if you don’t buy that argument, it’s hard to deny that DRM has delivered an interesting subscription-based option. Because DRM has enabled for time-bombed content, consumers now have the option to rent an entire music collection for $5 per month. Even the most trusting out there would be reluctant to argue that that would work without DRM.

    The point was never that DRM was this great thing that everyone should love. The point was merely that DRM has opened the door for other options. It was merely to give people another way to look at DRM. In the end, you must remember that I’m still the same guy that wrote the DVD Decrypter column too.

    Cheers and keep reading!

  2. Chuck on June 26th, 2005 12:28 am

    Hi Steve!

    Thanks for dropping by!

    To be sure, you’re right — there are doubtless a lot more single tracks available now than would have been available without DRM. I just think that we would have eventually ended up there without it regardless.

    The insidious thing is that the DRM’d solution is just “good enough” that people are settling for that and not letting what really ought to happen go ahead and happen. Namely, for the labels to either come up with a workable business model for the new technology, or refuse to, and let themselves become disintermediated.

    You’re certainly right about the “all you can eat for $5” plans — they’ve got a definite place in the market, and they wouldn’t exist without the DRM.

    I did understand you were taking the unpopular position to try to stimulate a little discussion (and here it is :-), and we really are in a place that we wouldn’t have been right now were it not for DRM.

    I just think we’d be in a far better place eventually if this had never transpired.

    It’s much like the studios and their “well, maybe we won’t produce any more broadcast content if you don’t give us broadcast flag” — well, maybe they won’t.

    But you can bet that someone would.


    – Chuck

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