Putting Digital Music to Rights

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.


  1. There are two things that bug me about the Etymotic ER4s — the cable noise transferred to the ear and the earwax that accumulates in the buds. Putting both of these irritations to the side for a minute, the little buds still seem to reproduce the sound that gets piped to them very very (relatively) well.
    Having just heard some fabulous finalsound electrostatic panels I am even more inclined to believe, as I have been cogitating while reading your past musings, that the DRM thing does “lie at the ear” so to speak.

    Meaning, yes, give me my damn music.

    Conceptually at least, it’s like a really good quality babelfish with a great voice that translates (when authorized) your encryted tunes. Unauthorized fish just make noise.

    What happens at parties though when your friend doesn’t have an authorized ear? Fish swapping? Could be the next ATD (Aurally Transmitted Disease).

    Fish clones follow.

    Where’s Glenn Gould when you need him?

  2. well i guess that current private fair use may survive — until the implants anyway — i like your vision of a depleted rather than augmented reality, where stuff simply isn’t there unless you have rights to it…

    somewhere between here and then, there is i guess the issue of reproduction rights in opublic places — one other possibility from rights managed the way i’m imagining would be that you could, for example at a pub or club or gathering, instantly have available all the music the venue has licensed, PLUS whatever those present had rights to — kind of like everyone turning up with their record boxes. Could make for interesting experiences…venn diagrams for permissions to content…

    Another direction for micro-public reproduction might be along the lines of the headphone festival, which i think is actually this weekend — are all those people lying around listening, listening to the same thing? schroedinger’s chill out…

  3. yes i suppose the fish could communicate with one another in there own secret langauge … blueear? (vs tooth?) for the babels? … venn diagrams, yes.
    then a Fed spoiler comes in with his blockfish. bastard.

    i think this is called radio?

Comments are closed.