Beware the iHandcuffs

Interesting article in the NYTs I caught today about Digital Rights Management (DRM), or as the article puts it, Digital Restriction Management. Ouch. A couple of interesting excerpts:

Even if you are ready to pledge a lifetime commitment to the iPod as your only brand of portable music player or to the iPhone as your only cellphone once it is released, you may find that FairPlay copy protection will, sooner or later, cause you grief. You are always going to have to buy Apple stuff. Forever and ever. Because your iTunes will not play on anyone else’s hardware.

Apple pretends that the decision to use copy protection is out of its hands. …Apple’s lawyers noted in passing that digital-rights-management software is required by the major record companies as a condition of permitting their music to be sold online: “Without D.R.M., legal online music stores would not exist.”

This claim requires willful blindness to the presence of online music stores that eschew copy protection. For example, one online store, eMusic, offers two million tracks from independent labels that represent about 30 percent of worldwide music sales.

Among the artists who can be found at eMusic are Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, who are represented by Nettwerk Music Group, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. All Nettwerk releases are available at eMusic without copy protection.

But when the same tracks are sold by the iTunes Music Store, Apple insists on attaching FairPlay copy protection that limits their use to only one portable player, the iPod. Terry McBride, Nettwerk’s chief executive, said that the artists initially required Apple to use copy protection, but that this was no longer the case. At this point, he said, copy protection serves only Apple’s interests .

It’s ironic, in the big label’s paranoia in privacy protection, they insisted on Apple launching the iTunes music store with DRM. Little did they know at the time how huge of a success the iPod would become, turning Apple into a near monopoly in the digital download content. Also ironic, the very DRM technology that would protect the label’s content turns out now protects Apple’s monopoly. I love seeing this back fire in the label’s face.

I will say, as much of an Apple fan boy I am, I find FairPlay far from fair for me. It keeps me from buying other devices, like a Squeezebox, because my content isn’t all MP3. It’s frustrating. Apple TV seems to be heading in a similar direction only supporting streaming of Apple adopted standards of H.264 and MPEG-4. I should be able to stream content in Real or Windows Media Player format as well as via Flash.

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