"(Recently) I made a list of the 22 ways to sell music and 20 of them still require DRM," RIAA technology unit head David Hughes said during a panel discussion, according to CNet. "Any form of subscription service or limited play-per-view or advertising offer still requires DRM. So DRM is not dead."
Hughes' statement comes just four months after the last of the Big Four music labels decided to ditch DRM for some sales. Sony BMG joined EMI, Universal, and Warner in selling DRM-free MP3 files through Amazon's MP3 service (in addition to a rather large handful of independent labels), making Amazon the only online destination that sells unprotected music from all of the majors. Other music stores offer some DRM-free selections too, like the iTunes Store, the Zune Marketplace, eMusic, and Amie Street, to name a few.
Still, it's true that DRM still exists in the music world. The majority of songs from the iTunes Store still utilize DRM, many stores continue to sell tracks with Windows-centric DRM, and practically all subscription services still use it. Other services, such as web-based music service Last.fm, offer free ad-supported streaming, but users are limited to listening over the web and cannot take the files with them offline. And, of course, subscription-based services use DRM to ensure that the downloaded music expires once users cancel their subscriptions.
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."
Aside from incompatibility, there's another major danger with DRM: having your music licenses disappear on you one day. This most recently happened with MSN Music, which announced that users will need to either commit to their authorized computers for life or circumvent the DRM by burning the music to a CD and re-ripping.
The industry's recent willingness to drop DRM and embrace other, nontraditional models led us to believe that the music industry was finally "getting it." Given Hughes' comments, however, perhaps the Big Four labels and RIAA never will.