Digital Rights Management: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Father Digital Rights Management: Peer-to-Peer file sharing

Peer-to-peer file applications have left a scar on the music and movie industries. Just a few years ago, it was commonplace for users to use peer-to-peer file sharing apps such as Limewire and Napster to download entire albums and movies – completely free. At the time, it seemed like everyone was doing it and nothing was “wrong” with doing it. However, musicians do own the copyright to their music meaning it is illegal to download without paying. For big musicians like Lincoln Park, it’s hard for most people to sympathize since they’re rich anyway. Imagine for a minute how harmful free distribution of music is to a smaller band just trying to make a living and get by.

In terms of the music industry, digital rights management is an issue that has been hard to solve. Some banks, like Metallica, perceive the ownership of their music’s license like a fire-and-brimstone issue – they once sued fans and Napster for using P2P sites to down download their albums:

Metallica Sues Napster Universities Fans 

Sure, it’s is a serious issue for musicians, but suing one’s own fans is a bit extreme. Metallica isn’t exactly going broke because of this. Technically, Metallica was justified because they own the copyright to their music, but do you think that it was “right” of the band to go after individuals? What do you think Metallica should have done?

The other end of the spectrum is bands who think that Digital Rights Management is killing the music industry all together and encourage fans to listen to their music – by any means necessary. Radiohead, for instance, allowed fans to download their entire new album, for free, but allowed fans to donate however much they deemed fit :
Radiohead’s Donation Album Idea Spread Over the InternetAngels and Airwaves let fans download their album from their website during a 24 hour promotional period. I attended a concert once where the band Thursday said to get ahold of their music – even if that meant downloading it off the Internet for free! Obviously, there is some debate as to a solution for solving the illegal peer-to-peer file applications.

Congress is even proposing to impose penalties for people for making YouTube videos with copyrighted content. If I want to use my favorite band as the background music for my skate video, should I be put in jail? If anything, I’m spreading awareness about the band!

Read more at: 

Usage Enforcement and its Effect on Consumers

Hollywood and record companies have taken 1 giant step to protect the copyright of the media they license: this step is usage enforcement. Usage enforcement is a very sophisticated, yet inconvenient, technology which changes the file format of media to enforce copyright. For instance, if you buy a music track from iTunes, the track is configured so that you can only store the file on a certain number of devices. In other words, even though you bought the track, it’s not completely yours to use however you’d like. The reason usage enforcement was implemented was to cut down on the sharing of files.

It’s quite possible that video games and movies will soon do something similar to cut down on sharing. They could use the Internet to register a video, therefore tracking the number of licenses which a certain video has used. This is also inconvenient because you’d need to be connected to the Internet just to register. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t be able to play a music file which you copied from a flash drive to a PC without first registering it. While most people view P2P file sharing as stealing, do you think it should be considered stealing to simply burn an album on to a CD for a friend?

Of course the copyright owner has the legal right to limit the use of an audio/video file license. However, usage enforcement is typically considered extremely unfair to people who are not distributing the music illegally. It comes as no surprise that the UK is updating their copyright laws to incorporate common sense: Changes Outdated Copyright Law Set Legalise Format Shifting Do you think that this is a good move forward for the industry? Do you think that the US should follow suit?


Taxing Radio

Radio broadcasts are a live performance of music. Live performances are definitely covered in the constraints of copyright law. Due to this, however, law makers are pushing to tax radio. Because local radio stations would not be able to cover the royalty fees to play songs, this law would hurt many local radio stations. Where do you stand on this issue? Should radio be taxed? Aren’t radio stations just providing free advertisement for musicians and a great way for people to discover new music?

The Business Model of “Hollywood” and “Big record labels”

Technology and the Internet are surely changing the business models of Hollywood and Big music record labels, but they aren’t completely obsolete. It’s great to have a label to provide structure, funding, and marketing. The traditional model of purchasing an entire album is outdated – thus Apple’s popular model of purchasing tracks. However, being limited with how many systems or devices a track can be licensed to is very frustrating to users.

I’m for a subscription model where users pay a monthly fee and never own music, but rent it. Netflix does this with movies and they put Blockbuster out of business. Obviously, it works for the film industry, now we need a mainstream way of doing this with music. Rhapsody offers this, but it needs more buzz and better access methods to become mainstream: Will DRM Free Music Subscription Model Threaten iTunes?. In short, big record labels are quickly becoming obsolete.

Obviously, the music industry is changing with the times. It’s probably just a matter of time before paying for music is a thing of the past. Pandora, for instance, let you listen to music for free from a web browser. What happens when Internet speeds are powerful and widespread enough for users to consistently access free music from mobile devices?

Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google & also the person recognized as The Father of the Internet, wrote on his blog in 2008: “In the next decade, around 70% of the human population will have fixed or mobile access to the Internet at increasingly high speeds, up to gigabits per second. We can reliably expect that mobile devices will become a major component of the Internet”

The music industry has to evolve its business strategy. Advertising will likely be a big part of it considering that’s how free services like Google and Facebook make a profit.

Hollywood certainly isn’t obsolete by any means. Even with the exponential growth of self-produced media – like Shane Dawson’s YouTube channel – I just don’t see Hollywood going away anytime soon. People love movies – high quality movies. Simply put, YouTube videos will never be better than Paranormal Activity 3. There’s still a big demand for blockbuster movies.

Accessing music and movies

I use Pandora when I have access to a PC or laptop. If I want to hear a specific song, I just go to YouTube and look it up with the word “Lyrics” after the band name & song title. Otherwise, you’ll get the band’s label page (usually VEVO) and typically have to watch an advertisement…a long advertisement (almost 30 seconds!)…an advertisement you can’t always skip. Otherwise, I use my iPod when I’m driving in the car.

Just a few years ago I only used CDs and never thought anything of burning a copy for a friend. There’s an old saying that if you love a book don’t let friend borrow it. The rational is you’re costing the author from gaining a potential profit. I don’t agree with that quote. I think you’re helping promote the book (or band if you’re burning a CD). Further, the person might get hooked on the series of books or band and start purchasing concert tickets or book sequels. You wouldn’t want to waste you’re money on a bad book or CD, so this is a great way to test the waters.

Big labels are just too controlling. Recently, Justin Bieber uploaded his own song to YouTube on his personal account and that video was removed – by his own record label, Universal Music Group. Here is a link to the full article:Justin Bieber infringes copyright of his own songs by uploading YouTube video Shouldn’t the copyright to a song belong to the person who created it or do the creators sacrifice that right when they sell the copyright’s exclusive license?

For more reading about Digital Rights Management, check out:
The Top 10 Arguments Against DRM 
Digital Rights Management Controversy


How has copyright affected the way you listen and acquire music and videos? Have you ever been frustrated by the overbearingness of usage enforcement? What changes do you see occurring in the music and movie industries in the future? 

Do you or have you ever used a peer-to-peer file sharing application to download music or movies? Do you consider it stealing? Is it stealing to burn an album on to a CD for a friend?


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