Blown To Bits

Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 2 of 2)

Saturday, September 27th, 2008 by Hal Abelson

Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 1 of 2) reported on the mistrial in the Jammie Thomas case, with the court coming to appreciate the overreaching of prosecutions for music sharing, rejecting the RIAA position that simply “making music available” should be punishable as unauthorized distribution, and Judge Davis recommending that Congress reconsider the egregious statutory damage penalties for copyright infringement.

Last week’s other optimistic signal was the continued erosion of DRM-protection as a means of music distribution.¬† Digital Rights Management (DRM), remember, is the technological band-aid that prompted the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that we rail against in B2B as an anticompetitive drain on innovation. We argued in the book that DRM hurts consumers and competitiveness, and we took approving note of some alternative distribution models for music that were coming to market just as we were completing our manuscript, such as the availability of DRM-free music from Amazon.

Two days ago, MySpace joined the DRM-free music distribution party with what may turn out to be the most significant of all the new models: MySpace music. MySpace users can now select from hundreds of thousands of non-DRM tracks to stream to their computers. The service is free to MySpace users, supported by advertising. You must be connected to the net to use the service. If you want a copy to listen to off-line, you’ll have to buy it from Amazon or iTunes.

Actually, I bet people have already using stream recorders to save he tracks for offline use. But in any case, having to be connected to the Internet isn’t a big deal any more. The reality is that MySpace users now have the “universal jukebox”, as we described it in B2B, that Napster presented in 2000 and 2001. The appeal will be just as great, and this time it’s legal. Of course, where MySpace goes, can Facebook be far behind? And who knows what other budding social networks? We’re finally coming to the end of the hallucination that DRM is the key to the Internet content economy. Today it’s free music tracks, but video will follow: it’s only a matter of storage and bandwidth, and the inexorable pace of Moore’s Law. Are you listening, MPAA?

As if on cue, but surely unrelated, Walmart yesterday announced the death of a third large DRM music service and the consequent stranding of consumers. This follows on the heels, as we previously reported, of Microsoft (April 23, 2008, MSN Music RIP) and Yahoo! (July 26, 2008, Yahoo joins the ‚Äústrand our DRM customers‚Äù game). As of October 9, the hapless purchasers of music tracks from Digital Music, will no longer be able to move “their” music to new machines, compliments of Walmart ceasing to support its license server.

So DRM-based music distribution continues to die: consumers don’t want to buy it, providers don’t want to support it, and there are wildly better alternatives emerging. But it’s still the same old story with Congress continuing to not get the message, and continuing to grasp on to DMCA anticircumvention and even starker penalties for copyright infringement. Our solons still live in fear of some 1990’s bogeyman story of entertainment industry imminent collapse that never was true and becomes more transparently a fairy-tale every day.

As we wrote in B2B:

If the content industry moves to better business models and the DRM battles subside, the DMCA’s anticircumvention provisions may continue to be anti-consumer, anti-competitive blots on the digital landscape. Unless repealed from the legal code, they would remain as battlefield relics of a war that was settled by peaceful means—unexploded ordnance that a litigious business could still use in ways unrelated to the law’s original intent.

Let’s give all those Congressman MySpace accounts, so they can learn what a dying system they’re trying to shore up.

3 Responses to “Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » More DMCA Shenanigans Says:

    […] Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 2 of 2) […]

  2. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Walmart reconsiders Says:

    […] ice the plan to shut down its DRM music server, a move that would have stranded its customers, as I reported here two weeks ago.¬†¬† This new announcement from the Walmart says that they have decided to maintain […]

  3. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » The iPhone and the DMCA: i for “imprisonment” Says:

    […] this in 1998 in an attempt to crack down on music file sharing.¬† It didn’t work; and as I blogged last September, the recording industry itself is largely abandoning DRM for software distribution. Yet […]