Protecting the future of music

Posted in Business + Economy, IT + Technology, Law + Social Policy, Mass Communication by expresscheckout on 11 December, 2007

‘Digital locks’ future questioned 
By Darren Waters, Technology editor
BBC News
December 10, 2007

One of the world’s largest hard disk manufacturers has blocked its customers from sharing online their media files that are stored on networked drives.

Western Digital says the decision to block sharing of music and audio files is an anti-piracy effort. The ban operates regardless of whether the files are copy-protected, or a user’s own home-produced content. Digital activists say it is the latest step in a so-called war on copyright theft that is damaging consumer rights.

The shift to a digital world in which all forms of content, from books, music, and TV programmes to films, can be shared effortlessly around the world between people with an internet connection has produced an unprecedented upheaval in attitudes to media, copyright and consumer rights.

Professional content producers have struggled to adapt to this changing world and deal with rampant copyright infringement that threatens to undermine their businesses. The most popular method of copyright control in the digital age, Digital Rights Management (DRM), is a software – and sometimes hardware – solution designed to prevent copying and to control how different forms of media are used.

Peter Brown of the Free Software Foundation, a leading anti-DRM campaigner, said: “DRM and filtering attempts by firms like Western Digital are an attempt to take control of our computers. DRM is bad for society because it attempts to monitor what we do and how we live our digital lives. It is asking us to give up control of something which gives us some degree of democracy, freedom and the ability to communicate with a large group of people.”

Western Digital has blocked users from sharing more than 30 different file types, if they are using the company’s software, called Anywhere Access.

Mr Brown added: “DRM is never right because it takes away our rights as citizens.” He said all DRM solutions had been bypassed, rendering the technology useless. You can’t stop the copying of ones and zeroes – its impossible,” he said.

Paul Garland, head of intellectual property litigation at law firm Kemp Little, said it was not possible to say DRM was not working. “Content creators are struggling to find a way to prevent mass distribution of their creations.”

Alexander Ross, a partner at law firm Wiggin, said: “There is fundamentally two types of operation for DRM – to restrict usage, and track usage. That second element is essential and will remain essential – particularly for subscription services, which are beginning to take off. If we go down the subscription route, there must be control.”

The common problem with DRM for many users is one of a lack of interoperability. Many of the world’s leading content producers use DRM systems which are incompatible with one another. The popular example is the majority of music bought and downloaded from iTunes, the world’s most popular online music retailer, which can only be played in its original form on iPods, machines running iTunes and Apple’s own wireless TV system.

However, iTunes does now sell a selection of music from EMI without DRM. The BBC has been criticised for using a form of DRM for its TV downloads that means the programmes cannot be played on Apple Macs and PCs running Linux. “The reason for a lack of standards across the industry is that there’s no such thing as the industry,” said Mr Ross. “There is Steve Jobs and Microsoft and the two titans are at odds with one another. Between them they rule the market.”

Mr Garland said: “The biggest problem is that it is actually quite difficult as a consumer when downloading content to know what you are able to do with it. If DRM is going to survive, there needs to be much greater effort to tell purchasers what they can or can’t do with it.”

Mr Ross said people had to understand they did not have the rights to do whatever they wanted with digital content.

One solution could be to develop information standards to inform people about the rights and restrictions around DRM, said Mr Garland. He said: “Content owners are entitled to give you what rights they decide to give you; when you are downloading a piece of music, for example. They are also entitled to restrict you from circumventing the DRM. Trying to circumvent the DRM is an offence in itself. DRM is part of the law and a legitimate method of trying to protect your copyright content.”

For the music industry the future looks less and less likely to involve DRM, said Mr Garland. He said: “There is a backlash, people are concerned. The music industry is now talking a lot more about DRM-free products. DRM hasn’t been the way to overcome the copyright infringement problem.”

Mr Ross said that DRM as a copy protection tool might not last much longer. However, DRM as a track and rights management system is here to stay – as long as the music industry exists on a royalty model,” he said.

Mr Brown said the industry did not need to use DRM, nor employ laws which prohibit the bypassing of DRM, in order to protect their financial interests. “Media companies are trying to force people to think about copyright infringement almost in line with murder on the high seas. Copyright law is about copying and reproduction of work; that is on the statue books for everyone and is sufficient to tackle the problem. Digital restrictions management…is a restriction of our rights and the use we make of media files, that historically and legitimately we have been used to. The idea this is somehow protecting someone is untrue – it is an attack on us as citizens.”

Music industry betting on mobiles 
By Marc Cieslak, BBC Click Reporter
BBC News
December 8, 2007

The music business has been in decline for the last seven years. CDs are not selling in the numbers they used to, which is a worry for the record industry as well as retailers.

The online revolution took the record industry by surprise and it has been playing catch-up ever since. “I think the music industry has to accept its fair share of the blame for not acting quickly enough to digital music,” said Adam Benzine from Music Week magazine. “There was a feeling in the music industry around 1998 when Napster first came out, well, there was simply a feeling of bewilderment and confusion. What is this thing, how do we deal with it and, more importantly, how do we turn it off? How do we stop people putting music on the internet, rather than how can we monetise this and how can we embrace this?”

Mobile potential

The recording industry is finally hitting back and mobile phones are leading the charge. CD sales might be tumbling but digital music sales are steadily increasing. Unfortunately digital growth only accounts for a tenth of overall music sales, so they are still not making up for the shortfall generated by CDs.

There is one territory which is bucking this trend though. Digital music sales in Japan are sufficient to offset the loss made by CDs. In fact, Japan saw a 1% rise in music sales last year. Industry observers attribute this rise to mobile music downloads.

“When you look at advanced markets like Japan, most digital music is already being consumed via mobile phones,” said Rob Wells, senior vice president of digital music at Universal. Fixed-line services are not as successful as over-the-air-delivered music services to mobile phones.”

Downloading via mobile offers the user the ability to browse a store’s back catalogue, purchase and download music all via a mobile phone while on the move, cutting out the need to download songs using a computer. Adam Benzine said: “Pretty much everybody in this country over the age of 12 has got a mobile phone with them, not everybody has got a music device with them, but everybody has got a mobile phone so you’ve got an immediate captive audience.”

Mobile stores

Globally, various mobile music stores have launched; the UK has seen three launch in recent weeks. Generating more hype than the average Hollywood blockbuster, Apple’s iPhone downloads songs using wi-fi from its already successful iTunes store. Muscling in on the download action, the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer Nokia has launched its own store.

Both of these are download-to-own options, which means music is purchased and downloaded to a mobile – that music then belongs to the phone’s user. Prices for individual tracks are much the same around 79p or 99 cents. However, iTunes will only work with an iPhone or iPod Touch and so far Nokia’s store will work with a handful of its phones.

Mobile music company Omnifone has teamed with networks in the UK, Sweden and Hong Kong to provide a subscription-based service. Called MusicStation it offers unlimited downloads for a subscription fee of £1.99 ($1) a week. But downloaded music will only be accessible as long as the subscription is maintained.

Unlike the other two offerings here, MusicStation will work on a variety of handsets from different manufacturers. And unlike the iPhone it downloads via 2.5 or 3G connections, meaning it can download from any location. Possibly throwing a spanner in MusicStation’s works, Nokia is also planning a subscription service which allows users to keep the music they have purchased after the subscription has expired. So far they only have a confirmed content deal with Universal Music but say they are in discussions with the other major record labels.

Compatibility issues

Rob Lewis, CEO at Omnifone, said: “Clearly at the moment there are lots of different parties looking to secure a position in the music game. Most of the manufacturer solutions, iPhone is an example, you buy the music to the device and you can only transfer it from one device to another if you stay with the same manufacturer.”

Users are also restricted with what they can do with their music by DRM, Digital Rights Management software. This software is an anti-piracy measure and restricts what the user does with downloaded music after purchase, limiting or complicating transferring music from a phone to any other device. “The biggest hurdle that mobile music companies currently face is that it’s just not easy enough to buy music on the mobile phone,” said Mr Benzine. “It’s a long-winded and quite difficult process even for early adopters that it’s stopping the wider mass market from embracing mobile music at the moment.”

The potential for mobile music stores to generate serious revenues is certainly there, but until issues such as DRM and subscription versus ownership models are resolved, mobile stores still have some work to do before the charts are filled with tunes downloaded using phones.

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