HERE COMES THE SUN
[This article originally ran in the 2.15.07 issue of Metroland Magazine]
Did you know that Daylight Savings Time starts early this year? Yup, second Sunday in March instead of the first Sunday in April. Congress decided on this a couple of years ago as an energy saving measure, figuring more hours of our waking life in daylight saves energy, which makes a certain amount of sense. And I suppose it also allows Congress to say “we did our job” with regard to energy policy, by corralling the populace like the compliant sheep we are, while leaving the energy industries alone to feed the beast and run the world. And it gives Dick Cheney an extra hour to shoot his friends in the face.
In any event, you may want to check your computer, which may not have heard the news about the time change. If your operating system isn’t properly updated, you may find your online world is an hour off come March 11.
Speaking of daylight, it looks like all this digital music static about DRM is coming to a head sooner rather than later. The fun began when Apple’s Steve Jobs posted a call for the end of DRM, and for all record companies to allow digital music to be sold without any DRM, i.e. the copy protections, tracking devices, and number-of-play restrictions that currently encumber almost every major label digital music release that’s legally available.
Lots of people have been scratching their heads over this one. While, to be sure, the only way Apple’s been able sell major label music on its ITunes store has been to promise the labels an effective DRM system, Apple has also profited massively by creating its own proprietary DRM system (called “Fairplay”) that links its IPod devices, ITunes software program and ITunes store, to the exclusion of everybody else. The whole Apple music empire was built on a combination of cool, great products, and most importantly, DRM. And Jobs is willing to walk away from that? WTF?
Well who knows, but it set off a firestorm of comments and activity. The RIAA, which rivals the Republican National Committee in the abuse of logic and honesty in the pursuit of power and money, immediately issued a statement that challenged Apple to license its FairPlay DRM system to all of the other competing online music services. In other words, the RIAA admits that Jobs built the better mousetrap and wants him to give it to everybody else. The RIAA’s problem, of course, is that there is no mouse problem in the first place. Try as it might, the RIAA has totally failed to establish a link between piracy, DRM, MP3s, etc. What is abundantly clear is that the continuing DRM schemes and the total lack of interoperability among musical systems (along with a wealth of other factors, like the promotion of crap music and the terrorizing of kids through vindictive lawsuits) has turned a generation of music listeners away from the major labels and the legitimate purchasing of music.
Industry blowhard and Warner’s music owner Edgar Bronfman called Jobs’ position illogical, and pledged allegiance to continued use of DRM, in the course of his quarterly earnings discussion in which has was trying to explain away a 74% earnings decline for the company that he runs. Moron.
Meantime, major label EMI, which has dabbled with one-off DRM-free releases with tremendous success, is rumored to be getting ready to allow sales of at least big parts of its vast catalog without any DRM. EMI’s earnings have been hurting, too, and opening up the floodgates of restriction-free music is seen as an attempt to regain some measure of profitability for the company.
So you’ve got some major labels saying DRM is the only way to protect their precious “property” and at least one label apparently saying that dumping it is the only way to survive. Meantime, music vendors like Yahoo are predicting their entire catalogs of major label music will be DRM-free by the end of the year. And the head of eMusic.com, a wonderful and wildly successful site that sells independent music without any DRM predicts that if the majors dump DRM, their profits will skyrocket, just like his.
And what happens when DRM disappears? Hoo-boy, watch out. I suspect the legitimate online music market will indeed explode, with more choice in music format, selection, and price. Pirate P2P and torrent sites will always be around, but will shrink. The IPod will only retain its domination on the gizmo market only if it is indeed the best player, and new and innovative players will proliferate. Integration of cell phones with music players will accelerate, as will the migration of consumers from buying CDs to digital files, as the transition to digital becomes dramatically less confusing and intimidating.
People will be listening to more music, and that means people will be happier. The world will be a better place. Thanks, Steve-O.