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What will DRM stand for in the future?

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Opinion Imagine this: a new world standard in music recording. It works like this. You turn the radio on and it downloads four hours of songs in MP3 format. Free.

Yeah, you can probably imagine that. Now: imagine this - nobody in the music recording industry complains, or protests, or sues.

It already happened. It happened when DAB first appeared, and nobody noticed, because it was too expensive a solution. And it's happened again now that DAB has been followed by DRM. No, not Digital Rights Management - almost the exact opposite: Digital Radio Mondiale.

Here's how it happened. Ask yourself: when DAB first started, how big was an SD Flash memory chip? And what did it cost?

The question is about to become really important. DAB, or Digital Audio Broadcast, is amazingly popular - in the UK. Now, the rest of the world is about to get digital radio too: but a new standard. And, almost without anybody noticing or complaining, the new standard - Digital Radio Mondiale or DRM - is about to get people arguing about music downloads again.

It has always been (technically) possible for a DAB radio owner to record the digital stream direct to memory. The broadcast is already digital so there isn't any difficulty about digitising it; the only hassle is whether it's an MP3 format recording. I have played with one of the first DRM radios, and it is.

The radio is set up so if you plug a £10 SD flash memory card into the side of it, you can record four hours of DRM, or half an hour of DAB.  There's an electronic programme guide, so you can set your timer to record shows that are coming up. And when it's done you'll be able to plug it into your PC and save the MP3 files with all your other MP3 files.

So, why did the world's music copyright owners not kick up a stink at the time?

I think it's because they didn't think it mattered. Without a deja vu machine, it's hard to prove this wrong, but you're going back close to the days when they ignored the iPod, because "it only works on a Mac, so who cares?" and at the time when DAB first appeared the UK was the only place anyone took it seriously.

Morphy Richards has now released the first DRM radio in Germany, and its view is that the difference between the UK and the rest of the world was simple: "The BBC made DAB work, because the BBC started DAB broadcasts. So there was a market for DAB radios, which meant other broadcasters started DAB stations too."

No such impetus elsewhere, and so you can take your DAB radio overseas, but you'll find almost nobody transmitting. And so, the music business ignored it. DRM is now here and is much more likely to become a global standard because it allows digital broadcasts on existing medium wave and short wave and FM channels, as well as DAB frequencies.

But it's digital and, therefore, it can breach copy protection, or digital rights management.

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