by Mike Masnick

Lala's Lack Of DRM Looking Increasingly Like DRM

from the jedi-mind-tricks dept

Remember last month when some DRM advocates were talking about how they should change the name of DRM, since DRM had such a negative connotation? This was amusing, since the whole reason it was called digital "rights" management in the first place was to make it sound more palatable than digital "restrictions," which is what it really was. However, it seems that some are taking that concept of "renaming" DRM to a new level... by calling DRM files "DRM-free." Yesterday we wrote about Lala.com's new service that supposedly would offer DRM-free songs for purchase from Warner Music. We noted the oddity of supposedly DRM-free files only being able to be loaded onto iPods, since that suggested there clearly was some form of restriction on the files. However, it's becoming clear that there are certainly some types of DRM being used. In Bob Lefsetz' latest blog post, he notes that each file has a watermark that identifies its owner, and if you're not the owner, you won't be able to play that song. In other words, the supposedly DRM-free tracks... have DRM. It's just a slightly different type of DRM.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Team Tutorials, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 8:34am

    Still Better

    It's a step in the right direction. Kind of?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    TheToe, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 9:10am

    Re:Still Better

    In the right direction? This is just the same crap painted a different color. DRM is DRM no mater what else you want to call it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Sean, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 9:17am

    Re: Re: Still Better

    Reminds me of my local supermarket, who this week marketed some drinks as "10 for $10". Normal price is 99 cents.

    Funny little marketing gurus who come up with this stuff, and how different wording always make things seem slightly better.

    BTW. I'm not fat, I'm metabolically deficient. Doesn't that sound better?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Yosi, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 9:30am

    Actually, that's how DRM should work. I you're the owner - you can play the file wherever you want (I assume that an owner can load songs into number of iPods).
    Not an owner - too bad. You should be playing only files that YOU purchased.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 9:39am


    "Actually, that's how DRM should work."

    True, but the whole point of this is to abolish DRM - or whatever you call it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Sean, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 9:45am

    Re: Re:

    My understanding was that DRM limited each user by allowing them to use the file they purchased in one location (eg an Ipod). How is this any different? From what I gather, you can STILL only use it on one Ipod, and you can't do anything else with the file, so as TheToe said, "it's the same crap painted a different color". All they did was change the name and lift some minor restrictions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    The infamous Joe, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 9:52am

    False Advertising

    New, Fat-free* Snickers!(tm)

    *Contains fat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Sanguine Dream, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 10:00am

    What I want to know...

    Will the people that bought these "DRM free" tracks be able to get there money back since there are still restrictions in place? I suppose not since I bet there is some fine print somewhere that says so.

    And as much as I hate the word lawsuit this does sound like a clear cut case of false advertising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    tehdiplomat, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 10:04am

    Maybe the DRM is free?

    Maybe they didn't mean the MP3's are free (as in speech) of DRM, maybe when you spend a buck on this MP3, we'll give you this expensive DRM stuff for free (as in beer)? Maybe?

    Alright, they suck. Bury them under a pile with everyone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    StinkBait, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 10:11am

    I'm a pirate, arrrr!

    Have you read the last linked article?

    "By eliminating the leak, by making buying honest file copies the easiest thing to do, maybe piracy is stemmed. I’m not for this. I’m for the opposite solution. Losing all DRM and identifying characteristics and letting the music flow freely. The more people who own more music the greater the ultimate income, never mind the personal fulfillment of the listeners."

    Maybe my sarcasm detector needs batteries, but attitudes like this are why we have DRM in the first place - people are just wanting something for nothing, and will piss, whine, and moan unless they can get unencrypted, freely-sharable tracks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    scott, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re:

    except they are selling it as "DRM free", they are not selling it as "this is how DRM should work". What's the point of your comment???

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Technomancer, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 11:00am

    Get with it.

    Here's the thing. People are going to find ways to break DRM anyway. The best solution to making money through music distribution is not to charge a lot and make it so people can't share your music. It's simple really. Make each song so cheap that it's easier to take a couple moments to download (and pay for!) an MP3 than to try and hunt down a friend that has a non-crappy version of the song. Lose your MP3 collection? big deal. Download a few hundred songs and forget about that burned hard drive.
    How many people shell out for 2-3 new CD's a month? You charge $.15 - .25 a song, and watch how fast you could generate that same amount of revenue. In addition, since the companies don't have to manufacture any goods or packaging, that's almost entirely cold hard profit.
    The distribution model has already changed; all this thrashing around wailing and moaning about DRM is nothing more than the death throes of a dinosaur. Those who cannot adapt will surely perish.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 11:27am

    The really sad part of this story is that Lala started out as a really cool, customer-focused company with a cool service.

    CD swapping is very much David (consumers) v. Goliath (RIAA) since there is nothing the RIAA can do to stop it. Every CD I traded was a little knife in the heart of the RIAA. The original Lala would never try to pull this marketing crap.

    These latest developments make me think that the RIAA bought out Lala and installed their own CEO and VP of Marketing. Who else would have the nerve to market a product as DRM-Free when it is loaded with DRM?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Jon Healey, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 12:52pm

    Re: DRM and RIAA comments

    A watermark isn't a DRM, IMHO. It's a forensic tool. Although we'll have to wait to see the service itself, from what Lala told me their watermark sounds like it's restoring some of a buyer's first-sale rights. It enables people to give away what they buy -- something you can't do with a DRM'ed song. But in this case, "giving away" means "giving up," not "duplicating." And from what I was told, the original buyer's license isn't revoked until the person who receives the file adds it to their Lala collection, at which point they'll be asked whether they want to take the license away from the buyer.
    As far as the CD swapping thing (which Lala is still doing, BTW), I wonder if Anonymous Coward checks to see whether the discs he/she swaps came from labels that belong to the RIAA. Let's be honest here -- CD swapping isn't some David vs Goliath statement, it's just consumers taking advantage of the secondary market. The politics are just pretextural -- the motive is to build a music collection for a much lower price than it would cost to buy the discs new (or even to buy them used at a local store).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 12:54pm

    Another useless service that will most likely crash and burn. Apparently the entertainment industry doesn't understand business or economics very well.

    I use eMusic. I have a yearly plan. For about $200 I get 90 tracks a month (I'm on the "grandfather plan", newer subscribers only get a max of 75 tracks a month). That's 1,080 a year. At an average of say 12 tracks an album that's about 90 digital albums a year. That comes out to about a little over $2 an album. Of course there only 192Kbps - which is still a lot better than 128's - and not quite "cd quality" and I have no physical disk, liner notes, lyrics, ect. but that's OK, it's still a hell of a deal for just the music (of course that's the top-of-the line plan, and incidently, if you do a comparison it's roughly what ALLofMP3 charged for similar quality track).

    The downside to this model is that the distributer (in this case eMusic) and the individual bands/artsist make less PER UNIT. However, they make up the difference in VOLUME. Under this model most people benefit, especially the vast majority of the artist. The only people who don't benefit are the people at the very top of the "food chain".

    For example, I typically have X dollars to spend on luxuries. Let's say this week (or month or whatever) it's $20. If a CD (actually let's use a "digital album" since there is no physical inventory then) cost $10 I can only buy two. Let's assume an artist gets 10%, that means they make $1 off the album. But if albums are only $2, than each artist makes only 20 cents.

    However for that same $20 I can buy 10 albums at $2, instead of 2 albums at $10. That means ten artists get paid and not just 2. The distributor still makes the same, since they still get 90% of that $20 (and other than perhaps bandwith costs there isn't really any overhead to speak of). The current model make a bit of sense for physical production, since producing ten disks instead of one cuts down on profits, but they make no sense for digital units.

    So I spend my $20, the label get $18, ten artists get 20 cents (as opposed to the dollar the would normally have gotten).

    My buddy has $20 to spend. Let's say his musical taste is identical to mine, so he buys the same albums I buy. At $10 a album this means only two artist would have sold two albums each. they would both have made $2. The other 8 got nothing. At $2 an album, ten people get 40 cents each.

    This is a disadvantage to the top artists, since they'd need to sell 5 times as many albums to make up the difference. An artist who sells 1-2 million albums is unlikely to increase sales to 5-10 million to offset the price differntial (although sales should still likely increase some. On the other hand, at that volume most people will not have much sympathy if someone only made a million dollars instead of two million.

    Most middle artists will likely come out about the same. With more people buying more music, many of them won't have much problems selling five times the volume to offset the price differential. The artist who will benefit the most are some of the lesser known artist, whose albums you would have bought if not for that Metallica or Britney album you just had to get.

    As for DRM, it does nothing to benefit the business model. It simply drains time, money, and effort in research. It certainly does nothing to prevent those who would engage in "illegal" activities, as those people simply find ways to circumvent the technology and do what they want anyways (I'm not advocating that what they do is right, just pointing out that the tech isn't going to hamper/discourage enough of those who do to really make a noticeable difference). All it really does is largely inconvenience and annoy the vast majority of the consumer base whom DRM is not really concerned with.

    As for the idea "Actually, that's how DRM should work. I you're the owner - you can play the file wherever you want (I assume that an owner can load songs into number of iPods)." This of course only makes sense if every device is capable of identifying a specific owner. That might work fine on a computer or maybe an iPod (I wouldn't know as I see no reason to ever buy an iPod) but would be unlikely to work well on my Phillips Mp3 player.

    It also ignores "first sale" right. For example, a friend at work is a big Marc Broussard fan, and his first album is on eMusic. So I downloaded it, burned it to a CD (and subsequently erased the tracks from my computer), and gave it to her as a bday present. Were it "owner encoded" it's unlikely she'd have been able to use it, unless there were some equally cumbersome method to go along with the DRM, to "gift" the tracks to her and "owner encode" them in her name. Again, impractical, inconvenient, and annoying.

    And were I "unethical" enough to want to gift her a copy of the tracks and still choose to retain copies for myself, DRM would have done little more than inconvience me since even if I couldn't crack the DRM myself it wouldn't have taken long to research a method/tool or contact someone who can provide me with such methods or tools (if I'm going to be "criminal" like that, I'm almost certain to have the sorts of friends who can actually do that sort of thing).

    DRM does little or nothing to discourage, and even less to prevent, people who are going to be dishonest from actually being dishonest. It does, however, severely discourage people from actually being honest. After all if the have to be "dishonest" to do perfectly legitimate things with their rightful property, why stop being "criminal" at just legitimate uses.

    The pro-DRM argument sound really nice, but the simple reality is that DRM doesn't, hasn't, and never will benefit anyone (except perhaps the DRM makers).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    jon, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 1:22pm

    The major problem as I see it is that DRM requires system X to work. If system X goes away so does my ability to listen to the music I purchased. No one has ever addressed this concern so far as I know. If I buy music loaded with DRM there is no promise that I'll be able to listen to the music I purchased in fifty years, so I don't buy DRM'ed music. I don't care about watermarks, I do care about limitations. DRM is terribly risky for the consumer, but great for the distributors because the worse-case scenario for us is the best-case scenario for them— people will potentially need to buy the same thing again and again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    the answer, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 2:46pm

    free DRM, not DRM free

    It's simple...it's just a misunderstanding like the free as in open/free as in beer.

    The songs are not DRM free as in no DRM...they are DRM free as in the DRM itself is free. Isn't that so nice of them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 6th, 2007 @ 11:20pm

    DRM free*

    *May contain traces of DRM

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    YouKnowNothing, Jun 7th, 2007 @ 5:52am


    Up is Down.
    Black is White.
    Ignorance is Strength.
    War is Peace.
    Freedom is Slavery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Music Lover, Jul 9th, 2007 @ 2:27pm

    Avvenu Music Allows Sharing of Entire iTunes Libr

    Are you familiar with Avvenu (http://www.avvenu.com)? It allows you to access and share your music library on multiple devices. It's a better service than LaLa.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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