Music, through the imminent DRM format wars, will become increasingly ghettoised through branded delivery mechanisms — already iTunes and Sony software insist on transcoding from one expedient but lossy format to another if you want to play tracks on competing players. And there seems to be a lot of pressure from all involved to pass off such low-quality formats as worthy of purchase and collection, presumably to create a profitable market of low-res, ‘throw-away’ copy-protected music, and to encourage ongoing waves of repurchase as listeners demand better quality or support of later playback technologies. I think these effects result from conscious decisions on the part of content owners, rather than being, as often presented, problems inherent in DRM per se.
But there’s a more abstract right at stake: I want the right to listen to the music — not to possess a particular data file containing an instance of the music in a particular format, locked with a specific DRM mechanism. Once I’ve paid for my right to listen to that piece of music, then I want the right to listen to any other copy of it. Technologies which acknowledge and support such rights should support some sensible real-world behaviours. For example, I should be able to register all the CDs I already have, and instead of having to rip them myself, have access to the tracks off them, anywhere that they are available digitally — in other commercial formats, or some BitTorrent-style peer-casting service that can suck a speedy copy for me from other proximate instances.
Any coming war over DRM and formats should be fought over rights to platonic content, not rights to instances. Potentially, DRM offers a real guarantee of quality and authenticity for consumers, rather than simply an enforcement of restrictions on hardware choice and the usability of specific media files.
I want my music wherever I am, but not necessarily locked into a particular technology or branded player. For me, that’s a digital right actually worth paying for.