RIAA says DRM is coming back -- in the future, you won't own music

You know how all the record labels have been dropping their requirements for DRM on their music, opening up more and more venues for DRM-free music? Well, according to David Hughes, head of RIAA technology, that's just a temporary condition. From now on, we're going to increasingly rent our music with subscription services that will use DRM to take it away from us if we stop subscribing. Hughes says that that's the only possible way to run a subscription service -- but of course, Magnatunes has a DRM-free subscription service, and I still have all those issues of Asimov's they sent me when I had a subscription, even though I let the subscription lapse.

The RIAA believes in "intellectual property," which is a fancy way of saying: they believe that they get to own property, and you have to rent it. The bits on your hard-drive belong to them, and that means you have to install DRM that lets them control your PC so that you don't do bad things with their bits. In the information age, "property" is the exclusive preserve of giant companies that can afford to register copyrights and sue to defend them, while the rest of us get to sharecrop all our embodiments of their property, from furniture to t-shirts to music to games to cars to PCs.

Hughes believes that per-track purchases are going the way of the dodo in favor of these other models, and that's why DRM will have a resurgence. "I think there is going to be a shift," he said. "I think there will be a movement towards subscription services and they will eventually mean the return of DRM." Hughes did acknowledge that users would rather live in a world where DRM stayed out of their way by saying that as long as they get to use files how they want, users don't care about DRM.

The problem with DRM is that users can't use the files how they want, which is why they do care. And we're miles away from the kind of magical solution solution envisioned by the Hughes that would create the perfect, unnoticeable DRM scheme. Others on the panel realize this. Digimarc Corp. director of business development Rajan Samtani pointed out that there are too many ways for the "kids" to get around DRM and that it's time to "throw in the towel."



  1. I make my own music now… so much more fun than simply consuming it like like the good sheeple they want us to be…

  2. Screw it. Let the sheep rent, and start going to cheap live shows. The only people this will really hurt are the talentless hacks that sound like crap unless they have a superstar producer working on their album. Reward real talent by paying to see the group themselves, and buy albums direct from those that have opted out of the RIAA’s BS.

  3. “Hughes says that that’s the only possible way to run a subscription service”

    funny how i still have a number of magazines hanging around the house from subscriptions that have long since lapsed. sometimes i even read them and no one has threatened to sue me for it yet. hmmm…maybe the mag folks understand that i bought them, so they’re mine — novel concept, i know.

  4. Now that Apple’s CnD’d the Hymn Project people, and iTunes 7.6.x has scroggled the workings of QtFairuse, I don’t buy anything that’s DRMd. Ever. If it isn’t available as an unprotected AAC on ITMS or as a DRM-free MP3 on Amazon, or their independent equivalents, I don’t buy it. Or, I go grab the promo copies out of the bin at the local used-CD shop.

    Until someone has a subscription model that runs on every platform where I listen to music, from PC to AV center, from iPod to car stereo and boombox, it’s a non-factor for me. I don’t classify music by “Is it available on $DEVICE, because that’s where I’m listening today?” If I can’t play the same track that I’ve paid for on my iPod, TiVo, etc. it’s useless to me. I don’t pay for goods multiple times in order to allow me access via platforms I own and wish to use.

  5. Just for the record… you can subscribe to Asimov’s online and get a PDF, or a couple of other pretty open formats, each month. Fictionwise have DRMed ebooks as well as open ones – including the Asimov’s subscription.

  6. I notice the RIAA says a lot of stuff like this. It isn’t really that DRM will be “coming back.” It’s just that the RIAA would LIKE to see it come back. Reality, meanwhile, trundles along its usual course, separate from the RIAA’s wild proclamations.

  7. #6
    Nail on the head, man. It’s not an issue of wanting to subvert the industry’s profits; it’s an issue of their poor, unregulated service. If I pay good money for music (which, in some parts of the world, that would be considered madness anyway), I don’t want to have to KEEP paying for it, just so I can get compatibility with all my devices.

    Which is why I said the RIAA is just spewing their usual crazy, drug-fueled BS. Nobody is going to do business with DRM-infected providers, and the RIAA should already know that.

  8. The RIAA hates used record stores, apparently. If it’s no longer possible to own the music I buy, why are we still saying that we buy the music instead of renting it? That’s because, in any sane world,
    Does this mean that, when seeing concerts, we’ll eventually have to sign NDA’s about the concerts we attend? As ridiculous as it sounds, that might as well be the case considering the insanity musicians and music consumers already put up with.

    On a barely-related note, have any of you contacted Audible about their DRM lately? I’m interested to see if they fed you the same BS line they fed me. “It’s the only way the publishers allow us to sell the files online.”

  9. As long as we support paper book sales, we might want to support cd sales too. I know, think of all the plastic trees that will die just so we can own our music in the form of a real disk. It brings tears to my eyes.

  10. I believe this article highlights that no one in the RIAA has any clue at all what consumers are doing currently, let alone what they may want in the future. It’s a special kind of sadfunny how out of touch they are.

    In other news, water is wet.

  11. This is why I’m thinking about taking up the piano. I haven’t bought any music (or downloaded anything) in over two years.

    Eff the whole lot of ’em.

  12. “Hughes believes that per-track purchases are going the way of the dodo…”

    First, well, believing things doesn’t make it reality, no matter how much money you have.

    Second, sadly, he may be right. I know a lot of people who use these services and go on and on about how great they are (I pony up donation money to SOMA FM myself). I don’t get it, myself, but I get why the RIAA loves it. It’s basically subscription radio for them. One file, millions of payers. Yuck.

  13. I just got an idea. New government group in charge of coming up with bloody stupid invasive ideas every month. Just bundle DHS and RIAA into one nice big idiotic package, based out of one building in washington.

    then, of course, demolish said building.

  14. Isn’t this why god created hackers? As long as the douchebags in the RIAA insist on being asshats, hoarding the things they themselves do not own, it’s going to be more fun to rip them off.

  15. Let us consider an alternate use of technology.
    Traditional DRM is being misused. It has become the acrimony laden battleground of Digital RESTRICTION management. Yet it need not be so. I propose not restricting but enabling. Enabling content creators and their assigns by authentication. Let me explain it simply. A creator of “content” “signs” the original with a digital .sig file. Which establishes it’s initial provenance. And subsequent provenances are appended. For a vastly different set of reasons and results than almost any other DRM concept to date. Being essentially independent of servers it is survivable. As it is NOT an atempt at locking or restricting the use of the content. The control here is the ethics in a chain of provenance.
    Think that over very carefully as it also is essentially a Copyleft securing tool.

    The most disruptive form being a control held by an individual creator as opposed to former publishing house servitudes. Well- an artist or writer “COULD” assign their rights- but why? Ah- there’s the sea change. As under a model of provenance security- the freedom to media shift is retained yet accountable for if that is desired.
    Market economics being what drives many choices? Misusers go broke- proper users thrive. Those seeking to play outside the rules can keep their works outside as they see fit.

  16. Oh, I may not ‘own’ it as it arrives on my computer, but I can either record the stream or, if the RIAA ever manages to totally preclude that (unlikely), I can stick a recording device between the speakers and my ears and gain a copy with enough fidelity to keep me happy. I personally wouldn’t do it, but the possibility for this will ALWAYS exist, and it baffles me that the RIAA and its ilk doesn’t seem to get this. When they add a new protection, that protection will be broken, and several ways to subvert and work around that protection will crop up. All they do by releasing more DRM is to increase the size of the hackers’ and pirates’ toolboxes.

    How far will they follow this chain, into our heads?


    Why they can’t grasp that the people who BUY music are the last people they’d want to piss off truly escapes me.

  17. As I recall, the last NEW music CD I bought was the MC Hawking Greatest Hits disc.

    As for the rest of my CDs, pretty much all of them are from used CD shops here in the Boston/Cambridge area, or from eBay.

    Same thing with DVDs, wait a month or two and grab it cheap from the “Previously Viewed” bin at Blockbuster or West Coast video or the aforementioned used CD shops/eBay.

    Once I own the disc, it gets ripped to iTunes (CD) or a quick trip through MacTheRipper (DVD).

    Physical discs get stored and the digital copies are used instead for listening or viewing.

    DRM will never, ever, be an impediment to the pirate or the determined listener/viewer.

    Whoops! Gotta go. I have a movie to watch. MacTheRipper just finished ripping and stripping my latest used DVD purchase.

    Suck it, MPAA! I’m “consuming” your “product” and you aren’t seeing a single cent of what I paid for it. And, I’ll “consume” it on any device I own, be it my computer, my television, or my iPod, without your permission!


  18. There’s and easy way around this– just buy vinyl records. They do still make them, you know.

  19. I have a new policy. Every time I read another article like this, I drop $10 in my Buy CDs From Independent Artists fund. When I get enough in there so shipping would be a small enough fraction of the price, I buy the CDs.

    I think I’m up to $30, with Leslie Fish or Kenny Klein next in line.

    (Klein just gave me permission to noncommercially circulate a filk of one of his songs, so he gets extra bonus points).

  20. This sounds like my Sirius Stiletto that lets me download a song I am listening too and I like by pressing a little button. I can play that song as much as I like when I like,but its locked onto 1 side of the internal memory. I paid for that song through my monthly subscription.I can DL as many songs as the device will hold.
    I refuse to ever purchase music again while the RIAA runs its extortion game, but I will purchase from Independant artists.

  21. #10 If it’s no longer possible to own the music I buy, why are we still saying that we buy the music instead of renting it?

    Cynical voices would claim it’s because RIAA members have to pay artists much greater royalties for renting than for selling.

    #21 Traditional DRM is being misused.

    Hmm, what you describe is not DRM. In fact, whenever anyone tries to describe a DRM that’s not evil, they end up describing something else. Here, you’re describing Authentication.

  22. Baldhead @18:Cruise missile or asteroid hit?I would’ve proposed nukes, but there are supposedly some innocent people in the Washington metropolitan are.

  23. will the recording industry just die already?

    it is a relic of a time when an entire industry was needed to get the music from the artist to the fans, the cost of that process has been knocked down at least 15 decimal places since 1995, what on earth makes them think that that should not change anything about how they make money.

    you are not needed or wanted, time to go the way of the TV repair man, times change, get a new job.

  24. I’m sick of people saying “The RIAA”. Say “Sony, Werner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and other members of the RIAA”. Using “RIAA” just shields these brands from the appropriate bad feelings they deserve to garner.

  25. Hey RMS, I looked at the site you linked in your post. I really agree with the sentiment expressed throughout the page. But my comment is that it seems a bit simplistic. Everyone who writes, and most all who read BoingBoing are pretty savvy about stuff like patents, copyrights, DRM, rootkits, and everything related. I applaud the website and organization you pointed to, just wonder if you are affiliated with the EFF and others who are fighting the good fight, if not, why not?

    My (humble) opinion is that DRM, AS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED, is not inherently evil. Artists, producers, et al SHOULD have some rights to their works, at least for certain period of time. It is what DRM has BECOME and the evil, selfish uses it has been put to that is the problem.

  26. Jake, that’s Richard Stallman (could be a fake, but it sure sounds like his writing) he’s received the EFF Pioneer Award. Though I’m not sure if he has any other involvement with the EFF, he is constantly active against the stupidity of our legal system – so not being part of the EFF isn’t that big a deal.

    My favorite thing he does is his Political Archives, a daily news aggregation that I’ve followed for the last few year (It is invaluable for those of us stuck watching the US’s MSM).

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