DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT – AN OPEN DISCUSSION – Part 1
Two thick three-ring binders contain the typed lyrics I transcribed from folk and rock songs forty years ago. My parents had splurged and purchased a budget reel-to-reel tape recorder for my birthday prior to high school. With rudimentary alligator clips attached to radio or phonograph speakers, I could record and listen at leisure to any and all songs being played on AM radio, 45s, or LPs. This pre-digital world seems distant today, just as I am sure iPods and MP3s will be considered prehistoric by the middle of this new century.
With no regard for reducing the revenue stream to record companies, I used successively more advanced recording equipment as technology evolved and my musical appetite expanded. My shelves are loaded with cassette tapes of dubbed FM radio shows and not a few CD dupes from friends’ and libraries’ collections, in addition to hundreds of legally purchased recordings.
Using Napster, I downloaded a few dozen songs before the legal situation became sufficiently murky to halt me in my tracks. Using LimeWire I next acquired a hundred more MP3s, and when the lawsuits began I ceased that method of acquisition. Now, with iTunes and Apple’s online Music Store, it’s easy and convenient to obtain music legally, for a price.
I believe an iPod is an invitation to share tracks with friends. Software makes this transfer process effortless. I use a freeware app called, cleverly, Senuti, obtained from <versiontracker.com>. Many iPodders are stealing music that their friends bought legally, without any over-the-shoulder glances. What’s wrong with this picture?
On a brief jaunt around town, an iPodder can pick up 25 CDs from a branch library, and a greater number from friends. Mac and Windows both can easily convert all desired tracks into AAC, MP3, and a couple of other formats for subsequent iPod grooving. Total cost is a couple dollars in gas. Once the songs have been ripped, any other Podhead can place them in a personal music library. Cheat and steal endlessly, and the technology makes it easy.
Apple sells millions of iPods as sales of recorded music declines (Owen addresses the alleged “declines” below), yet more people are listening to more music than ever. Steve Jobs’ commandment, “Don’t Steal Music,” disappears in the peel-off covering on every new iPod. Screw the recording industry. (Hard facts on percentages or dollars involved in iPod music thievery are not easy to obtain. My comments are anecdotal, from personal observation and discussion.)
Under cover of a tenuous anonymity, a few (million) brave downloaders continue to use the Internet to swap songs, movies, software, and other digital media, but I am not one of these brazen flaunters. The entertainment industry pursues aggressively every high-volume online “sharer” that can be identified. Don’t risk it, friends.
Sneaker-swapping remains prevalent across platforms, formats, and types of media. Ripping and burning CDs and DVDs loaded with music and movies is tolerated only because it is so low-visibility, and because the companies that create the problem also profit from ignoring aspects of it. (Owen reminds me that a charge on blank media is collected in many cases to allow for this practice.)
Let’s consider Sony, a giant force in the entertainment business. Sony has artists who release music on the Sony label. But Sony also sells computers to people who can easily rip content. And Sony also sells blank CD-Rs and DVD+/-Rs to contain that ripped content. This means that Sony makes money regardless of how you obtain their music, and they also benefit from the stealing of that same music, so who gains and who loses, except for parties interested in capturing digital rights revenue that is being bypassed?
From youngsters to oldsters, copyright law is ignored. Owen tells me that in his current professional work, he is working with people who wrestle with how to add robust enough DRM and copy protection without affecting the legitimate viewer. “Anything good enough to seriously discourage theft will make the legitimate user take more steps, buy better or newer equipment, or input obnoxiously long codes just to use what they paid for,” he says.
Did you wake up today with the intent to steal income from a famous or little-known living or dead musician? Probably not, but it’s just as probable you will encounter (knowingly or not) an audiotape, CD, or music download, or software application that was not legally purchased and licensed. Being a part-time music instructor and full-time computer tutor, not a week passes without a student asking to learn music from a less-than-legal CD or tape, or wondering how to install a commercial application “loaned” by a friend.
Don’t fool yourself either that you can get away with it because nobody is paying attention to you, or that since almost everybody is in complicity it’s not “wrong. Digital rights “management” is almost unmanageable at present, because of the expense to do it correctly. Innocent folks have become guilty thieves without realizing it, as they swap songs and software and DVDs with more enthusiasm than regard for legality or copyright.
What’s fair and reasonable? What should be allowed and what should be forbidden? How difficult should it be to circumvent the legal encryption of protected media? Who is supposed to pay for developing an international system that is respected by creative people, business people, and ordinary people? How are all the “pirate” nations such as Russia and China to be brought into compliance? Why can’t consumers simply buy what they want and copy what they can obtain without having to be malicious?
In a November 4, 2004 New York Times article entitled “Film Group Said to Plan Suits Aimed at Illegal File Sharing,” reporter Laura M. Holson wrote:
“The trade group that represents Hollywood’s major motion picture studios is expected to announce on Thursday that it intends to file as many as 230 lawsuits in coming weeks against individuals who have illegally shared copyrighted movie files over the Internet, according to two people involved in the proceedings.
By putting Internet users on notice that they face fines or other stiff penalties for offering movies for others to download, the industry hopes to thwart the same problems that plagued the recording industry three years ago when executives did not respond quickly enough to the threat of piracy.”
Here is the URL for the complete article:
This topic was addressed in greater detail the following day, with New York Times reporters Matt Richtel and Sharon Waxman’s “Movie Industry Preparing Suits On File Sharing.”
Then, on Monday, November 8, came Victoria Shannon’s article in the Times entitled: “A battle over copyright infringement on the Internet heats up,” referring to lack of international copyright date standards for published books. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/08/technology/08newcon.html.
The writing is on the wall, fileswappers and freedownloaders, but not many people are prepared to take notice of what it says.