DRM and all that

September 20, 2006

For once I’m in the news! Well, not me specifically, but lots of people who, like me, downloaded the new iTunes 7 recently only to find that it works less than perfectly.

It’s sort of interesting for the reason that it highlights just how used I’ve become to having software updates that work. Since the broadband revolution, lots of bits of software update themselves automatically with little more than a confirmation dialogue box, if that. My anti-virus, web browser, and even operating system do this for themselves and by and large it just works. Then along comes iTunes with dodgy release which really wakes you up to how much you trust all these people to get it right. Funny how quickly we come to take these things for granted.

My iTunes problems are really limited to distorted playback whenever anything else happens on the PC, but it seems I can fix it by switching to Mini-Player view, or by pausing and resuming play. Not a big deal, but really not good enough for a market leader leader like Apple, especially when Microsoft is aiming its new Zune player and services squarely at them.

I’m still sitting on the fence about buying an iPod. I’d like one so I can take music and podcasts with me in the car and on foot. Sort of. But all sorts of things bother me about it, not least the rights management issues. Actually this affects Apple less than other services (Amazon Unbox appears to be one) with far more onerous restrictions on what you can do with the stuff you have “bought”. At least you can burn iTunes stuff to CD and walk off with it.

It’s interesting that in this atmosphere the vinyl single is making a comeback. What a lovely simple idea: you buy music on the record and you get to keep it. Forever. Play it where you like, resell it, lend it to a friend, stick it in the loft for twenty years and then rediscover it. It’s somehow surprising that the copyright folks are struggling so much with the digital issue – you think they’d leap at new ways to exert more control over what people do with their music, especially when it comes to copying. And that’s how we end up with Unbox – paying the same as you would for an equivalent DVD costs, and get crippled rights (so it seems).

Is it all going the right way I wonder? I like to pay artists for music, but surely they must in return be reasonable about what rights that purchase gives me. I think Apple have it about right. Let’s hope they can sort out these silly technical problems, and then I’ll probably consider a cheap last-edition iPod. (Nano of course – who wants a hard disk with all those moving parts to go wrong.)

Mmm. Consumer electronics. Must buy, must consume…


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