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What will DRM stand for in the future?

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There's the fact that you can transcribe broadcasts (pretty much) direct to the internet, but that was not seen as worth making a fuss about. The cost of Flash memory probably made the music industry take the view that it was a threat no greater than the existence of recording tape. Yes, technically, it is possible to record copyright music off FM radio and then feed it into your sound card and then rip it to MP3...but nobody does. So (I guess) the recording people reckoned it would be equally tedious work to steal free music from digital radio.

As to whether people will, only time can tell.

At the moment, there simply aren't enough DRM radio sets to make any difference. And it will probably be two years before the numbers reach the point where DRM-recorded songs reach critical mass - if they ever do.

Then there's the question of sound quality. FM radio (say audio experts) is much better audio than DAB and DAB is better than DRM. Again, that is probably better than guesswork, but it isn't clear that it matters because what we're comparing this with is not Hi-Fi, but MP3. The world is full of people who think that the sound quality of an iPod is Hi-Fi, but truly it isn't.

The sound quality of DRM can't be judged by the bandwidth. The compression is quite fierce, as you can judge by the fact that the same program which fills a one-gig SD card in half an hour of DAB, will fill only a quarter of the same card if you record off DRM. But it's not that simple. The new compression techniques in DRM are going to fool all but the "golden ears" types. I reckon if you're happy with an iPod, you won't mind getting a DRM download.

So there are two questions I'd want to see answered:

  1. Will it be easy to index these downloads? If it's hard work to tag the recording in such a way that people will know what they're downloading from the Torrent, then few people will tag it: if it's relatively easy, then obviously more people will do it.
  2. Will the music industry see the threat in time to re-negotiate the standards, so that broadcasts are laced with the poison of digital rights management, after all?

When we know the answers to these questions, we may have some idea of what will happen to music copyright in the 2010s. My own bet is that the music industry won't respond to the threat, and that the practise of downloading and indexing won't become wildly popular for years. I'm inclined to think that by the time it becomes a significant part of the music business, the music industry may have been focused so much on other "threats" to the sanctity of copyright that this issue will be established, de facto, as one of the ways of distributing MP3s.

In any case, copyright is a dream. Those of us who make our living by creating original stuff will be accustomed to "exploit it early, because it will go stale" mentality, and the current fantasy that says "we can prevent copying, we have the technology" will have been exposed as the fairy tale it really is. ®

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