Thoughts on "Thoughts on music"

February 07, 2007

Two things of major relevance to each other happened like 10 minutes from each other today just a while ago.

First, my AllTunes credit ran out. I’ve been using them for the past year for purchasing music. Their service, unlike iTunes, was available to me, and they sell DRM-free MP3-s for much cheaper than iTunes does. Are they legal? They say they are in Russia, but I have no idea what it means in the EU/US/JP space. And I don’t really care because I don’t think it’s my job to fix music industry problems. All I know is that these guys say they are good and I can download good-quality music from them cheaply. Which I can’t do in iTunes because I’m a thirdworld citizen to Jobsy.

So… the credit ran out and I thought why not buy some more because they didn’t rip me off or anything. But turns out that either they had too much fraud or they made some enemies in the payment industry due to their gray status, in any case, their payment partner has turned off VISA and MasterCard for them. So no purchase. Crap.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, our friend Jobsy has published his “Thoughts on music”. I agree with him that the two viable options are either keeping the current Apple/Microsoft/Sony silos as is, or getting rid of this DRM nonsense. It doesn’t really make sense to cross-license DRM systems and then keep cross-plugging the holes and do all sorts of other overhead things that come with such elaborate setups. For the time being, I just stick with Apple’s iTunes and the other guys can go do what they want, they are not interesting to me.

I have no idea how much are the record companies to blame for the DRM situation and how much is Steve’s own making. It’s always simple to make the other guy look like doofus and blame them and make yourself look like the victim. But I do know for a fact that this DRM/rights/encoding/crippling nonsense has gone beyond human comprehension and any logic and has become simply surreal. One very enlightening piece of reading comes from Dr Peter Gutmann on Windows Vista. When companies go to such lengths crippling their systems, treating you like criminals and making it harder for their partners to work with what’s already a very complicated ecosystem of complex devices and drivers, then it’s simply plain offending and insulting to me. So dear Microsoft, go take your Vista and kindly shove it up yours (finger) because I’m not going near that junk any time soon. I agree with Walt Mossberg who said (my rewording) that some things there are cool but in the grand scheme of things it’s just not so interesting.

So… back to the music stores. iTunes should do two things. First, realize that there are more than twenty countries in the world, and these are huge markets, and open up your systems for those. (Ditto to my friends at PayPal. I keep reminding them of this every time I see them.) Again, I have no idea how much are the record companies to blame, it could very well be just another aspect of DVD region encoding insanity. Second, make it DRM-free, so that I would have at least an illusion that I can “walk out” if the need really be. Judging by my allTunes example, even if music is DRM-free, I will happily pay for it because I don’t want to waste my time digging the warez networks and sites for the same stuff that I could probably locate but I don’t want to. It’s easier for me to buy it. Unless we’re dealing with the gray market and I can’t make the payment as described above.

Steve, it’s not that hard. You did absolutely fine with the whole Pixar thing. You can do it again with the record companies. Just show them the way forward and help them and yourself make a buck. I know a lot of European people and governments who are really fed up with American-slash-Microsoft crap and would cheer you having a larger European presence without this DRM nonsense and would also give you a lot of their money. America is pretty big country but there are (at least for a few more years) more people in Europe and a significant part of them are quite well off.

See also Jon Johansen’s posts. (He is the “DVD Jon”, the Norwegian kid who first cracked the DVD CSS encryption and distributed software for it. I like his blog, it’s no-nonsense and to the point.)