As someone who loves music and who
listens to a lot of secular music besides some Classical and Gregorian
Chant I have watched closely over the years music available over the
Internet. My pirating days of music are long gone and the
initial arrival of Napster occurred after my initial conversion so I
have never illegally downloaded any music – though I use to have a
large collection of cassettes that I duplicated from other people while
on cruises. I threw out all of my duplicated tapes after my
conversion and my current music collection contains music either in the
form of CD’s I have bought or music I have bough on line. I
mention this just to say that in theory and in practice I am against
That being said I really hate DRM
(Digital Rights Management) in music where the main purpose seems to be
to punish the user who has bought the music or other media. For example
I have bought a good amount of music from iTunes that I can’t play at
work. Where I work the IS department blocks iTunes so any
music I place on my work computer that has DRM can’t play.
If I plug my iPod into my work computer and try to play songs purchased
from iTunes it won’t play if it has DRM.
Now I know I can buy the CDs myself and
then rip them and have it totally DRM free and bypass this, but I
really like both the pricing and instant availability of online music
stores. Though I got burned by Sony when they installed a
root kit on my PC when I listened to a Our Lady Peace CD, so even some
CDs have some insidious forms of DRM.
I ended up using the analog
hole where you rip music you bought to CD and then rip that CD back to
iTunes without and DRM. The problem is of course
that you loose some music fidelity in this conversion. Though
I am old enough and lived too long on an Aircraft Carriers for my ears
to know the difference.
A lot of music I listen to is just not
available at local stores and I would prefer not to have to
buy the CDs online first. I use to be a subscriber to emusic
back when they let you download all you want of MP3s with no DRM.
The main problem with emusic was is that there were limited
record labels that would allow their music to be provided in non-DRM
format so this limited their catalog. So I was pretty happy
to hear that iTunes would start to sell DRM-free music at double the
bit rate of normal iTunes purchases, though they increased the price on
these offerings. I subsequently downloaded several albums
from what Apple calls iTunes plus and found that the music encoded at
256 kbps was significantly better and even I could tell the difference.
After that I determined that I would no longer buy any music
with DRM or was encoded at only 128 kbps.
Luckily this pledge is going to be
easier to keep than in years past. Both Amazon and Walmart
have entered the marketplace with DRM-free MP3s encoded at 256 kbps at
a price point around $.89 cents a song and around $8.99 an album.
I am pretty album-centric so hardly ever buy individual songs
in the first place. This has prompted iTunes to lower their
prices on their DRM-free music from $1.29 per song to $.99 per song.
As a platform I prefer iTunes for ease of use.
Bought I have now bought songs from both Walmart and Amazon.
Walmart has a long way to go in the ease of use category, but
Amazon while not being as good as iTunes is good enough and I have
found music on Amazon/Walmart that is DRM-free while the same album on
iTunes has DRM.
When iTunes first started their iTunes
Plus they offered to allow you to re-download music you had bought in
the past that is now DRM-free. Though of course they were
charging the difference between the price you paid and the price of the
music now which was usually under $3.00. What annoys me now
is that after Apple reduced their individual iTunes Plus song prices to
be competitive with Amazon they didn’t decrease their price if you
bought the whole album. I can’t think of any good reason to
do this from a competitive structure other than to prevent being
allowed to get the DRM free music you had bought previously without any
charge. When the iPhone price dropped so dramatically within
two months of it’s release they offered a $100 dollar rebate. I just
wish they would do something similar for those who paid a premium price
before the dropped their price and that they drop the price of the
whole albums in iTunes plus to be competitive with Amazon/Walmart.
Though maybe that is just me whining since as a company they
can set prices as they please – I just find their new pricing structure
to be inconsistent.
On the whole I would rather buy
DRM-free songs from iTunes than from other outlets because of both ease
of use and the fact that the AAC format is superior to the MP3 format.
But when it comes to an album that has not DRM at amazon and
the same one having DRM on iTunes then Amazon will win out every time
for me. The good news is that more and more music is being
offered DRM free and in the long run I think will only help their sales.
People who steal and then share music
will continue to do so DRM or not. There are already hacks
out there to remove the DRM from both protected WMAs and protected
AACs. Like with all DRM schemes it only hurts the customer
and not who they are directed at. Maybe one day they will learn this.