Monday, June 19, 2006

DRM Blues

Nearly two years ago I signed up to the Music Club, which allows you to purchase music online - either complete albums or individual tracks. While their prices are not especially good if you buy individual tracks at €1.29 each, whole albums are better priced at €12.49, particularly if you buy a double album with up to 40 tracks on it.

So I happily bought quite a few albums over the months without paying too much attention to the small print of their licence agreement. Since then I have learned a bit about DRM, or Digital Rights Management, and why you should try to avoid it if at all possible. Basically DRM, in the context of purchased music downloads, is software that is intertwined with the music track you download. This software ensures that you can only play the music download, which you have paid for, within the terms of the licence issued with that download.

As it turns out, the music I purchased from's Music Club allows me to play the music on the PC that I originally downloaded it to. If I transfer that music to my laptop to bring with me when I travel, I have to download a new licence. Once I activate that licence the other licence becomes inactive. In total I can only re-activate the licence 3 times, thereafter the music will not play. If this wasn't enough of a restriction, the licence for this DRM-enabled (or should that be crippled?) music does not permit streaming of music via a streaming device, such as the Squeezeboxes we use at home. So, instead of getting a bargain I've got headaches and now go out of my way to avoid the purchase of any music with DRM attached to it, including all music on the Apple iTunes store. At least if you buy a CD you can (legitimately) rip the CD and use the ripped music in MP3 format on any machine you personally own, any MP3 player or any streaming device. I am fully against the illegal copying of music for distribution to others via P2P systems or other means. However, if I buy busic for my own personal use I do not want to be limited to how, where and when I can listen to that music. Avoid DRM and vote with your feet.

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