EU Commissioner Makes Veiled Threat About Forcing Music Stores To Drop DRM

from the upon-deeper-inspection dept

Over the past year or so, some European countries have been taking a closer look at digital music and different stores' copy-protection schemes, with a view towards forcing compatibility, which would basically render DRM useless. Norway's consumer ombudsman saying that the iTunes Music Store's DRM is illegal, while French politicians flirted with mandating interoperability (before relenting and making things worse for consumers). Now, the EU's consumer protection commissioner is jumping on the bandwagon, criticizing Apple because songs purchased from iTMS only play on iPods and saying "something has to change." While she doesn't propose anything specific, this sounds a lot like the veiled threats so many EU regulators are fond of -- in essence, it's a "fix this, or we will" sort of statement. That's fine, but there's a pretty strong argument against government interference here, even if it would (theoretically) achieve the much-desired result of interoperability or the downfall of music with DRM. The switch away from DRM needs to be made as a business decision, not a regulatory one. By taking the regulatory or political route, content providers that are so insistent on DRM will simply become more resolute that they must use it, and will make the switch begrudgingly (and after a long legal fight, to be sure), rather than embracing DRM-free music on its own merits. A government mandate makes dropping DRM a political or legal issue, and it will be fought as such. This means that record labels will devote their resources to fighting the law, not figuring out the new business models that dropping DRM would enable.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 9:57am

    government interference

    The only reason that DRM works at all is government interference. If it were simply no longer given special protection under the law, it would become useless.

     

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  2.  
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    Joseph Durnal, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 10:22am

    At least those EU folks are fair

    And I thought they only wanted to pick on Microsoft!

     

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  3.  
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    Nicolas Jondet, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 10:30am

    French system may be an option

    I think that the regulatory approach adopted by France offers flexibility in order to achieve interoperability whether record labels choose to drop DRMs or not. If they do, as a number of independent labels in France have already done, then interoperability will be promoted by the content industry.

    However, if the content industry decides not to drop DRMs, the French law imposes an interoperability requirement for such DRMs. This requirement will be implemented by a body to implement this requirement (the body will probably be set up after the presidential election in May).

    The French law does not dictate what the content producers should decide about DRMs, just that in whatever their choice, there should be interoperability between media files, software, hardware and platforms.

    I think that the mere existence of such a mechanism has been one of the main reason (with other initiatives in Europe and a court case in the US) of Apple's pledge to push for DRM-free music. The threat of regulation might be the best way to push all players in the "right direction".

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 10:48am

    Re: French system may be an option

    once you open it for interoperability, DRM will become relatively useless and much easier to break completely.

     

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  5.  
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    rijit (profile), Mar 12th, 2007 @ 11:00am

    Heh

    "This means that record labels will devote their resources to fighting the law, not figuring out the new business models that dropping DRM would enable."

    Right now they spend their money buying laws not for new business models. I would rather see them have to fight against regulations than what they are doing now. Costly legal battles would drain their coffers much faster and once they spend most of their money fighting they will have to stop fighting or go broke. Either is a good thing as it would mean no more crap from the **AAs.

    These groups need to be taken down a couple of notch's as they act like they ARE the law or can change the laws to their will. In fact, I think the government should investigate everything these groups have done in the past 5 to 10 years and fine them for every single instance of their bullying and lobbying.

     

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  6.  
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    Nicolas Jondet, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re: French system may be an option

    That is the argument put forward by Steve Jobs to explain why Apple has always refused to license Fairplay. He thought that such licensing, by giving access to sensitive information to its competitors, would compromise the technology and the efficiency of the DRMs. (This arguments relies on the assumption that DRMs are efficient).
    Virginmega France, an online platform, tried in 2004 to force Apple to license Fairplay but was unsuccessful.

    If Apple has been so reluctant to "share" its secrets through a licensing scheme with its competitors, it is easy to understand why they would rather go DRM-free than have to deal with a French administrative body whose mission is to enforce and regulates the exchange of "information essential for interoperability" between software publishers, hardware manufacturers and online service providers.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 11:10am

    I'll agree to disagree on that one...

    The entertainment industry does not have consumer interests and/or customer satisfaction anywhere in its business model.

    Its not going to start now.

    The only way that "they" will make the business decision to go drm-free is when drm is made illegal, and they stand to lose profits by being legally removed from markets.

     

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  8.  
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    Allover, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 11:16am

    "once you open it for interoperability, DRM will become relatively useless and much easier to break completely."

    This is different from what goes on now how? Name one DRM scheme that hasn't been broken.

     

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  9.  
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    Koz, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 2:29pm

    Re: Re: French system may be an option

    It's hard to see how DRM could get any more broken than it is already. On the other hand if it was interoerable there might be a chance that some of the cunsumer enriching new opportunities that DRM enables (acording to it's suporters) couls be realised.
    That would put the French in the lead (again).

     

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  10.  
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    Dosquatch, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 6:13pm

    Embrace on its WHAT??

    By taking the regulatory or political route, content providers that are so insistent on DRM will simply become more resolute that they must use it, and will make the switch begrudgingly (and after a long legal fight, to be sure), rather than embracing DRM-free music on its own merits.

    I hate to point out the obvious, but the MAFIAA has never embraced any progress in technology on its own merits. They bucked cassettes, VHS, Beta, CDs, DVDs, MP3 players, each in turn. Kicking and screaming through the courts the whole way. Told each time that this new technology did not violate their rights, that this new technology was perfectly legal. And every single time the technology turned out to be a boon to their business. Yet they continue to kick and scream, and rewrite the law to protect the way things are against the way things are going.

    I'd love to see this "embracing on its merits" of technology and market demand of which you speak, but it just ain't so. This mule doesn't move without a lot of pushing along by court decision and regulation.

     

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  11.  
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    Andrew, Mar 13th, 2007 @ 10:42am

    same nonsense...different day...

    DRM is a joke...any kid can turn a song with DRM into an mp3. Labels need to lower prices of albums/songs and sell direct to consumers. On a related note, the RIAA's efforts against file sharing are soon going to be a thing of the past with all of these new software applications that offer encrypted exchanges. Look at GigaTribe for instance ( http://www.gigatribe.com ), their free software lets users exchange entire folders of albums in a few easy clicks, and no ISP can snoop on a user's activity. The music model is changing rapidly, and the music industry is just going to have to adapt. I for one will never buy a DRM-plagued music file, nor will I buy one of those "copy protected" CD's I so often see. DRM just backfires and hurts their sales!!

     

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