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Music To Our Ears

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First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

Steve Jobs has set the cat amongst the pigeons by penning down or rather typing out his thoughts on digital music on his company website. The Apple CEO is convinced that the current regime of selling online music embedded with DRM (Digital Rights Management) software is futile and should be done away with altogether. DRM among other things prevents songs purchased through Apple iTunes or other online stores from being played on all types of players and being shared across computers. Microsoft’s latest Zune player for instance will not even play songs with an older version of Microsoft’s own DRM called “PlaysForSure”. Jobs’ theory is simple. 90% of songs sold on the planet are on CDs, which have no DRM. Apple and other online music sellers are mandated by contract to update their DRM code every time it gets hacked which of late happens nearly every other month. His logic is that it’s futile to try and outwit the hackers while online music growth remains stunted. Moreover, Apple’s internal research shows that barely 3% of all songs on the average iPod are bought online (and therefore DRM protected), while the rest are ripped from CDs. Incidentally ripping songs from your own legally purchased CD onto your own computer is illegal in the UK though not yet in the US and India.


All the major music labels led by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have unanimously rejected Job’s argument. The RIAA says that more DRM not less is the way forward and is cheekily advising Apple to license their DRM technology to more players. Unfortunately the RIAA’s credibility among music fans in general and the digital community in particular is currently at rock bottom. The industry association has been on a trigger-happy binge of suing individual users including children, pensioners, students and housewives. Recently the RIAA sued a few dead people and a family that does not own a computer based on its highly unreliable IP (Internet Protocol) tracking system. It even lost a case to a mother who contested the RIAA’s claim that she was liable for her minor daughter’s downloading activities. The RIAA seems to be in denial about the fundamental problems with the music industry and prefers to treat its customers as thieves. People are willing to pay for their music. It’s the twelve-song CD with eleven trashy numbers that they’re fed up with. If downloading is made easy and reasonable, there’s a high chance that people will not bother figuring out how to get their music free of cost. Hackers on the other hand will easily crack any type of DRM.


Co-incidentally a long-running case involving Apple and a music company got resolved this week. Apple Corps, the London based record label of The Beatles, settled a three decade old trademark dispute with Jobs’ Apple Computer. However, the case is also legendary because it was inadvertently responsible for one of the biggest goof-ups in television news history. When the BBC wanted to discuss this case during a hearing in May last year, it asked tech pundit Guy Kewney, to come to their studios and offer his expert opinion. At the same time though, Guy Goma, a business graduate from the Congo was waiting in the Beeb reception to interview for an IT job with the venerable broadcaster. The rest as they say is history, as a mix-up resulted in a bewildered Goma being led into the studio, which he apparently thought was part of an elaborate initiation stunt. Only when he was introduced on live television as Guy Kewney did he stick his tongue out on air in horror. He quickly regained his composure though and gamely answered the three questions thrown at him with wonderfully generic responses. The BBC has been trying to get bootlegged clippings of this video removed from the web but they’re freely available on YouTube. Hey! Maybe Guy can do an interview on DRM and end up sounding more credible than the music industry!


Written by Abhi 2.0

February 12, 2007 at 1:32 am

Posted in Hindustan Times

Tagged with , , , , ,