The Biggest Flaw of DRM: The License Key

By Mike on 1:54 pm

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I'm not a big music buff. When I do listen to it, I usually listen to it on the radio (or satellite radio) or from physical media such as CDs or vinyl. I rip audio from those physical sources to my MP3 player in high quality 320kbps AAC files for listening on the go. I have never purchased digital music (not to be confused with CDs despite them technically being digital as well). DRM has always been the overwhelming flaw with the way digital music is distributed. As you probably know, Digital Rights Management restricts what you can do with a song such as the number of times it can be copied to another device, and even what devices it can be copied too. The whole concept was (supposedly) developed to stop music and video piracy. However, many users who bought the songs without realizing they were protected, or the extent of how they are protected have been getting a rude awakening. DRM on songs stored on your computer are subjected to a license. You have paid for the song but technically, you are only renting it. Each song has a license embedded in it. It communicates with a central server that determines that you are allowed to use said song on that specific system. Now here's the issue. What would happen if the retailer chose to shut shut down their licensing server. That's what now defunct MSN Music did. Now Yahoo Music is going to do the same. What this means is that the DRM embedded in the song can't find out if your are its rightful renter and therefore, it locks down the file. You've paid for something that is now totally useless.

There is a work around, being to burn the songs to CDs. This strips them of their DRM but reriping them lowers their already low quality further. Also, this is technically illegal to do under the United States' DMCA as it is considered circumventing copy protection. Yahoo is telling its users to do this anyway despite that fact. CNet's Digital Media blog brought up an interesting concept though. What if Apple shut down the iTunes licensing servers. It seems impossible but remember that Microsoft and Yahoo are huge companies as well. If they ever did, more than 1 billion songs would go down the drain. It would be a PR nightmare but the iTunes Store terms of service specifically states that Apple cannot be held responsible should this happen. Therefore, customers would be shit out of luck. You really did get what you pay for. As I noted above, most people don't even realize that music is not theirs to own. You're just leasing it. Unlike auto leases and such, you don't have vary many legal rights when leasing music. This is the fundamental flaw with digital distribution and the reason why I would never buy songs from iTunes. As I have said before, I think it's high time DRM be banned. All it serves to do is abuse legal customers. In the mean time, you should purchase your music on CD, vinyl LP, or from trusted DRM-free music services like Amazon. If you choose to buy DRM ladden products, you're taking a gamble with your investment.

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