Digital Music Format Wars Are Only Going To Encourage Free Sharing

from the too-much-trouble dept

The recording industry (and much of the press) have fallen in love with the various music download stores like iTunes, claiming that it’s the next revolution in music. Plenty of consumers disagree. Salon is running a great piece pointing out one of the biggest problems with these services: they’re all using different formats which aren’t compatible with each other – all in the name of adding weak copy protection that won’t do anything to stop copying. As such, the writer is wondering why he should bother to use iTunes when it means he won’t be able to play all the songs he already has in Windows Media Format – and he doesn’t want to get all those songs in AAC format again, because it offers the reverse problem. The conclusion is obvious: the companies selling music are too obsessed with the issue of copy protection. Give customers what they want: files in an open format that let the buyers do what they want with them. Plenty of people are willing to pay for a real service that doesn’t treat them all like criminals. If they keep stumbling along with useless digital rights management that only annoys customers, those customers will continue to go elsewhere – and they won’t come back.

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Comments on “Digital Music Format Wars Are Only Going To Encourage Free Sharing”

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shawn (user link) says:


Even if the companies running the music services wanted to, I doubt the big record labels would let them sell completely open formats. The techies know that these DRM schemes can be beaten, and the labels, deep down, know it too, but you can see a decent history of them pretending otherwise.

The companies have their own reasons for embracing DRM. In Apple’s case, it’s to sell ipods, other companies are probably getting a lot of encouragement from MS, which seems rather intent on making its own media formats the most prevalent. I don’t think in either case, the companies are doing it because they’re assuming that their users are criminals, even if that’s the mindset that the record labels are taking.

Anon Coward says:

Open Formats

Actually, AAC is part of the MPEG-4 standard, and as such is an open standard.
However, being an open standard only means that the standardization process is open. It does not mean that the standard itself is free (as in beer). Perhaps the biggest issue is the licensing fees to be paid for implementing AAC, not to mention potential for usage fees…

John Delphia (user link) says:

Music Compression Format Wars

My feeling is that there ultimately won’t be any format wars with the digital music compression schemes out there. The reason is a shift in the paradigm – I’m thinking in terms of “caseless” or “containerless” music.

Music has already lost its solid, physical nature.

You could also state things similarly with music becoming “formatless”. In this case, the device that plays the music can use whatever format it finds either most current (open source net based?), most legally acceptable (conversion-in only), most consumer friendly (several states of compression/control), or most proprietary (read mysterious).

The software that takes the music in would convert it from current formats on the web onto the player transparently, with no consious effort on the consumer’s part. This software would reside on the user’s computer, along with the original music from the net (at whatever quality you originally received it).

Then any download of your music to another person’s player would go through the same process. The popular formats to take on the job of carrying the music over the net will essentially become almost irrelevant, your compression degradation never falls below the first transfer from your source.

My feeling is that music really falls into three categories, presumbing three levels of cost/copywrite.

The first is no-loss higher quality than you can hear music that has components seperated out from the other channels in the music, becoming multi-track resource for other artists to create from. This material would come at a premium because it would need to include royalties resulting from its utilization.

The next level is plain old high-quality music in a lossless compression format with copywrite control only oriented against blatant resale. So maybe you’d have something like a set of 20-30 onetime copying password passcodes written into the file so the user could make 20-30 loss-based compression copies from an original after purchasing a copy password. (Your 31st copy would result in the original self-deleting.)

The next level of music would be device based and would use lossy compression schemes, no copywrite control other than a VAT-like tax on all musical physical devices, and would have the most “handles” that the user would need for theend-use of the material. The user would use high compression for noisy environments such as the car audio, higher quality versions for the home stereo. Some formats would include the author-title information, indexing, etc.

My feeling is that all three of the above formats could be sold and have a controllable market with its own dynamic and copywrite rule-set. Devices to make music use the first level copywrite and taxes/licenses, second level regulations handle music on computers/net, and player device makers use the third level set of regulations.

Sorry about the length of this, I should spend more time purchasing music than thinking about its flavors…

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