Commentary: DRM causes a commotion in the digital age

By on February 11, 2009

The failure of Ruckus’ free, advertising supported, DRM-heavy business model has made one thing clear:

College students will not put up with the hassle of burdensome restrictions on their music files, even if they are offered for free.
DRM stands for digital rights management, an umbrella term that describes many forms of copy protection aimed at stopping people from making copies of copyrighted material. There are many forms of DRM, but they all have one thing in common; they treat legitimate customers like criminals.

Ruckus offers a perfect example of the problems that DRM presents to customers. I’m sure that plenty of readers are familiar with them. You just downloaded that new album that you’ve been wanting, which Ruckus made quite easy, but it doesn’t really matter because you can’t put it on your MP3 player. Or burn it to a CD. Or play it on a Mac. You can sit there and listen to it on your computer, and that’s it.

I understand that the music industry is scrambling to find a way to remain profitable in the digital age, with the proliferation of “music piracy,” which is, by the way, a ridiculous term made up by record companies. I didn’t have to board anyone’s vessel to download “Crack a Bottle,” and I didn’t fire any warning shots before I torrented “Punk Goes Crunk,” so I’m pretty sure that I’m not a pirate. I think that everyone will be able to follow the debate just fine if we call it what it is: illegal downloading. We don’t need to call it music piracy or record company rape or any such nonsense to understand that it is against the law.

But restrictive and inconvenient DRM is just further turning our generation against the music industry, and will end up hurting the industry. Our generation has made it clear that we aren’t going to download music if we can’t use it the way we want to, even if it is free. Hopefully Sony, Apple and the other big players in the music industry will take the hint and realize that people are willing to pay for music still, but only if they are treated like customers, not evil, eye-patch wearing pirates.

The key thing that the music industry needs to realize is that MP3 players are the center of our generation’s musical universe. If we buy a CD or download a song, it is near worthless to us if we can’t upload it to our iPods and take it with us. And if that makes us pirates, then let’s raise the Jolly Roger.


About Matt Ciepielowski