Let the music play.

In the July 2007 issue of UK Mac Format Chris Phin published an article entitles “Let the musicians keep making music!” where Chris makes his argument for DRM and paying artists for their creations. In that article he equated people who want DRM free music to communists. What follows is my rebuttal to him.

Chris, as an independent content creator you should in fact be against DRM. DRM is an attempt by media conglomerates to coerce technology companies to give them (and only them) control over the technology you use to be creative. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here are a couple of reasons why DRM on music is not required or desirable.

All music up until now has been DRM free (CD’s, LPs, Tapes, AM/FM Radio). Musicians still got paid (some very handsomly).

You can still walk into a store, plonk down your money, pick up a CD, take it home and rip it to your PC. You can then do anything you like with that music (within the limits of copyright statute and case law). There two stores within 2 minutes walking distance of my apartment that sell most of their CDs for $10AU. This is cheaper than the iTunes music store and the music will be unencumbered by DRM. What iTunes has over these stores however is convenience and selection. The buying experience is far better on iTunes. This is the value that iTunes provides to users. The value to producers is the near zero production cost of digital media (after recording expenses) and the ability to data mine and cross sell to their customers.

DRM locks you in.

So why do I still buy CDs and not use the iTunes store? Because I don’t want the music I buy to be locked to my iPod or Mac. In ten years I want to still be able to play my music on my iPod pico, my Linux TV, my Xbox 720, and my PlayStation 4. Just as today I can play the CDs I bought ten years ago on my iPod, Macbook, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is only now that EMI have opened up their catalogue on iTunes as DRM free music that I’m interested in that service. I also find it illuminating that the DRM free music is encoded at a higher quality than the DRM encumbered tracks. If we’re all just nasty little communists who want to free load shouldn’t the music be of lower quality to encourage us to by the DRM tracks?

Piracy is harder than paying for it.

A good online music store should always be a better buying experience than piracy. I can listen to song snippets, get recommendations, see user ratings & reviews and with one click download to my iPod. This far and away beats the experience of P2P networks or The Pirate Bay. If you have access to cheap and easy services like a DRM-free iTunes and you still pirate something then you probably were never going to buy it to begin with. No loss to the producer.

I, like you, work in a creative industry. In my case I’m a programmer for a company who makes video games for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I really don’t care if someone downloads or copies from a friend a game I worked on. What really gets my goat up are shops like GAME and EB Games selling 2nd hand copies of games for $10 off the retail price. This directly effects our income in a huge way. Someone who goes to EB and buys a 2nd hand game for 90% the cost of a new game means a loss of a sale to us the developer. A customer who buys something, be it 2nd hand or a pirate knock off is a paying customer who probably would have paid the extra 10% had the 2nd hand item not been right next to the new one. This customer is denied to us by the retailer who pockets all the cash on that deal giving none to the content producer. This is what really hits hard on the content producers, not piracy.

DRM locks you out.

Another thing that makes DRM bad as a content producer is that it locks you out. Unless you buy in to the DRM scheme, and I mean literally buy not just figuratively, you can’t access that market. The game consoles are a perfect example of this. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have DRM on their games. You can’t run a game on either without it being digitally signed by Sony or Microsoft. To get that signature you need to be an authorised developer. To be one of those requires that you pay up front for development kits and a publishing license. If you think the PS3 is expensive in the shops on high street you should see the price of a development kit. It is like 20 times the price. And for every game sold at retail the platform holder takes ~20% of the sticker price.

The game console market is huge at about 200 million customers world wide. Because of DRM if I was an independent developer I couldn’t just create a game, chuck it on the net, and get access to that customer base. Instead I have to go through the gate Sony or Microsoft controls. If I don’t play by their rules I can’t sell my product. Something that happened just recently to Rockstar with their game Manhunt 2. Because this game contains content deemed “objectionable” by the powers that be, Rockstar’s multi-million dollar investment in the development goes down the tubes. In truth this game is no worse than a film like Hostel or Saw.

Now imagine if all PCs and Music players could only play music encumbered by DRM authorized by the RIAA and to encode your music in this DRM encumbered format you had to get a license from the RIAA. Then imagine you were a plucky independent musician who wrote a catchy little song called “Fuck the RIAA”. (Props to NWA). Do you think that would get released?

As a content creator or artist the last thing you want to do is hand over your right to express yourself in your medium of choice to some corporate self serving entity. If you favour DRM then that is exactly what you are doing.

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