03 April 2007

Digital Rights Management 1996-2007

iPodsDigital Rights Management for music files – the software locks that prevent you playing iTunes music on your Sony Walkman, using your iPod to store tracks from Windows Media Player and makes it much more annoying to make illegal backup copies for personal use of your favourite tunes – has been declared dead following the decision by Apple and EMI to abandon the copyright protection system. Now, for an extra 20p “audiophiles” will be able to download the “music” of Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Joss Stone and Lily Allen and make as many copies as they like for others, thus threatening to drown the globe in an unprecedented deluge of the musical equivalent of magnolia paint.

DRM was born in 1996, the youngest of a whole family of corporate killjoys including 'Home Taping Is Killing Music', 'I Say, Making Copies of Wax Cylinders Just Isn’t Cricket, You Know' and that bit at the beginning of old episodes of Mission Impossible, where Peter Graves only gets to listen to his tape once before it bursts into a puff of smoke.

Like most other music companies, Apple wholeheartedly embraced the use of DRM to prevent piracy, but the plan backfired when they found that once people had downloaded Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Joss Stone and Lily Allen, they didn’t want to make endless copies of the tracks but instead found themselves overwhelmed by a desire to smash their brand new iPod into a thousand pieces before running down Chris Martin with his own Toyota Prius and beating him about the head with a branch hewn from one of his own carbon-offset forests.

Further blows to DRM came when it was realised that they had absolutely no effect on professional pirates who - unimpaired by their peg legs and hook-hands - always managed to break any form of copy-protection in less time than it takes for Steve Jobs to pull on a black turtleneck, leaving only the humble consumer to suffer. And suffer they did, especially in 2005, when it was discovered that some Sony CDs were surreptitiously installing copyright protection on listener's computers, thus interfering with their privacy and affecting the smooth running of Microsoft Windows, even more than Microsoft Windows itself affected the smooth running of Microsoft Windows.

Soon, music-lovers were clamouring for the right to download their favourite tracks to listen to as they pleased – whether on their computer, iPod, MP3 player, burnt to CD, cut to vinyl, taped onto an old C-90 found in their shed or banged out by that spare symphony orchestra they'd left in the attic. As critics began to argue that DRM did less to thwart pirates and more to punish innocent consumers – but not quite as much punishment as being able to listen to Lily Allen’s ironically titled single, Smile over and over again – EMI made the decision to remove the software locks from its digital downloads and DRM was deleted for the last time.

DRM will be buried at the Jolly Pirate public house this weekend. The congregation will download Robbie Williams’ Angels for 99p … and then bury that as well. It is survived by Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Joss Stone and Lily Allen. This Dodo will self-destruct in five seconds.