Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Online Digital Music Stores and DRM

Elsewhere I've written about how online sellers of music CD's have a mixed record on telling customers in advance whether what they've bought really can be used due to built in copy protection. Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published a report on what Apple and others are doing with their DRM schemes applied to the online sale of digital music files.

I found this comment to be significant:

CDs purchased 20 years ago not only continue to play in every CD and DVD player, but can also be used with any of today's PCs and digital music players. Thanks to DRM, however, a similar investment in music downloaded today may be much less valuable to you 20 years from now.

This really made me think for a moment as I sat in my office. On one end of the desk is a stack of jazz, classical, and Latin CD's I've bought over the past twenty years -- they all work, just as advertised, on every playback device I own. And over in the corner is a stack of classical and jazz LP's I'm slowly converting to CD format. Still completely playable.

But sitting on my computer is a growing file of CD's I've ripped using iTunes, supplemented by a number of soundtrack, jazz, Latin, and classical albums purchased through iTunes. Will they (the purchased files) still be usable in twenty years?

If you read this EFF article, you've got to call that into question. And with scarce funds, why should I be buying stuff I won't be able to use? I like to buy and keep stuff a long time, as my collection attests.

I've already stopped buying CD's from online music services that won't say in advance whether what they sell uses copy protection that would prevent my using the product. In light of that, why should I buy stuff online that I may not be able to use in some future system?

I'm all for protecting artists' and owners' copyrights. But as I survey the confusion described by this EFF article, I can't help but think that we are retrogressing, not advancing.



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