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."