Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Another nail in the coffin of music DRM

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  • Paul Capewell,

    Nice post indeed.

    Yeah, this bodes well and I hope Warners get right behind and do what they could (and should) to retain the integrity and significance of the material.

    It's promising that so many New Zealand organisations (National Archives and National Library spring to mind with films and music videos, and journals and newspapers respectively) see this stuff as important enough to do, and do well. And that's stuff which is a national treasure and not monetisable (nice word, right?) - with Flying Nun we're talking about stuff that's to be sold! An impetus enough in itself, surely?

    Anyway...

    Manchester • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

  • Grant McDougall,

    and wouldn't it be nice for the Alpaca Brothers' sole EP to be available

    Damn right, wonderful ep. I bumped into Bruce Blucher on NYE, had a good yarn to him. His stone-carving business employs 16 people and has a million-dollar-per-year turnover, he said. Good on him, he deserves it. Drummer Steve Cournane has been in the Wellington jazz scene fro years, not sure what their bassit, Nick, is doing these days.

    Russell, enjoyed your spiel on RNZ National this morning. You saw Sun Ra, you lucky, lucky man.

    Dunedin • Since Dec 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Russell, enjoyed your spiel on RNZ National this morning. You saw Sun Ra, you lucky, lucky man.

    That's how I felt about it. It was sheer, unfathomable musical joy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    Yes, it was a good show. I envy you for the White Stripes. I was intending to go but decided against on the night.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • robbery,

    I'm wondering why you think its a good stance to paint DRM as evil when in fact it is that the current versions of DRM are shit and constrict the legal purchasers rights to free maneuverability of their property.

    do you want a free for all on digital property?
    thats great for the end user but pretty much ensures the death of creative industries with production costs involved (music doesn't cost nothing to produce and if it is not rewarded with fair income and that income given legal protection then you're going to see a decline in quality, and a drop off in long term artists as those artists who've made their first recordings for the love of it can't justify continuing on the hard graft artist line for their whole life)

    Here's a suggestion for future technologies.
    Music playing devices in the future have an id code.
    A registered user registers their devices with the DRM people. You can register as many devices as you like so long as you don't take the piss.
    The purchased music will be freely playable on said devices but not on any device not on your list.

    This means you can't give the track to a mate, but you can put it on any of your devices and play it.

    that way you get pretty much complete freedom to do what you want with your purchased music as regards yourself, but you're not free to pirate the music. (you can of course play the music out of an audio output and re encode it suffering one generation of, digital to analogue, analogue to digital conversion.)

    I don't think fairness is the motivating force for most of the proponents of no DRM though, correct me if I'm wrong.

    new zealand • Since May 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I'm wondering why you think its a good stance to paint DRM as evil when in fact it is that the current versions of DRM are shit and constrict the legal purchasers rights to free maneuverability of their property

    I actually don't dismiss it entirely, and I find iTunes DRM fairly painless (the bitrates on anythng bar the iTunes Plus material is another thing), but I've been hearing about how DRM is going to be good for everyone from industry people for nearly a decade now, and it really hasn't been good for anyone.

    It doesn't prevent piracy, and meanwhile you end up with crap like Microsoft selling songs with "Plays for Sure" DRM right up till the Zune launch -- and then saying that they wouldn't play on the Zune.

    You also see it being used as a way to manipulate markets, which Apple has done, and now Warners is doing. The consumer doesn't really come into it.

    Maybe a portable, open-source DRM format would be good, but I think there's a level of music where you've got more to gain from network effects than you have to lose from piracy. Hype Machine runs a very blurry line on copyright, but do you want your tune to come up big on Hype Machine? You sure do.

    But my main point was that there are places that certain back-catalogues should be and they can't be there because of the majors' blanket policy on DRM. Bird Nest Roys would be brilliant on eMusic -- get someone from Pavement to write the review -- and the part of the Nun catalogue that isn't considered worth keeping in print would be a real signature offering.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This means you can't give the track to a mate, but you can put it on any of your devices and play it.

    But I got the music bug by taping my mate's older brother's LPs and playing them endlessly. I'm kind of embarrassed by what I played (Supertramp? Uriah Heep?) but it certainly got me on the road to spending tens of thousands on music in the years to come.

    I do tend to draw a distinction between an MP3 blog that encourages its readers to download the file but buy the album and some faceless Pirate Bay torrent of an artist's entire catalogue. But how do you prevent the latter? Pirates will always break your technology -- it's reasonable people who get messed around.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    I do crypto for a living - in essence what you're talking about are crypto keys from the music vendors - it's how DRM works - and what you proposed is not going to work well from the consumer's point of view - in essence you're saying to the customer that either they buy music that comes preauthorised for N known devices (you're screwed when you want to replace your phone/ipod/computer because the music dosen't know about the new one) or you install a crypto key (or lots of keys) into each newdevice to reauthorize the music - (you're screwed there because if the music label goes belly up you can't authorize your new devices and your music becomes unuseable when your phone/mp3 player/computer die)

    It also means that people like me who own a LOT of CDs (storage is a problem), don't pirate stuff and are the music industry's best customers but who don't use DRM encumbered software (windows is banned in our house) are screwed because if you've bought into the DRM solves everything world view there's no way that you can trust me ..... yet if I buy a CD and rip it onto my laptop/mp3/player/whatever you do trust me .... which is silly because

    what's happening here is very simple: 300 years ago there was no copyright on music, music basically got played 2 ways - wandering musicians who happily played other peoples songs and court musicians (think of the great composers who had some rich guy paying the bills) - the music didn't belong to anyone and anyone could play it - what happened? the industrial revolution and the rise of the victorian middle class - they bought pianos for their parlours and sheet music came into vogue - it was printed on paper for the same copyright rules for print were applied to it - largely to protect the guy who went to all that effort to typeset it (the printer) - remember copyright came about with the invention of the printing press - in Rome if you wanted a copy of a book you went down to the forum and had a slave make you a copy - when music recording started the same regime as for printing was used - the modern problem is that we have this quite archaic mechanism for protecting the rights of the middle men - the publishers - the guys who get the bits from the author, make lots of copies and get them to us - now days that's so easy that there's no value to it - recording studios, CD pressing plants, warehouses, ships, trucks, brick and mortar stores, the record executive and his coke habit, his lawyers - these all do the same thing that the computers and the internet can do at 1% of the cost

    What we're seeing at the moment is a dinosaur industry after the asteroid has touched down, nuclear winter has kicked in and they are suing everyone in sight to stay alive, meanwhile the mammals are hiding in their holes, adapting, and getting on with life

    The music industry has to change, the record execs mostly will go, David Byrne's recent piece about how to make money as a musician shows how this is already happening -it's going to take some time and eventually the RIAA (the record execs) will run out of money for lawyers and the dinosaurs will die out - I look forward to a wonderfull future full of garage bands and live music

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2174 posts Report Reply

  • robbery,

    but I've been hearing about how DRM is going to be good for everyone from industry people for nearly a decade now, and it really hasn't been good for anyone.

    so really the issue is that no ones come up with a good DRM system yet, not that the concept of DRM is flawed and we should rejoice its passing, (as possibly inferred by the title of this article)

    new zealand • Since May 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • robbery,

    But I got the music bug by taping my mate's older brother's LPs and playing them endlessly.

    me too, and theoretically you can still 'tape' a drm file, ie copy it analogue, 1 generation quality loss still very listenable.
    or you could listen online on myspace pages etc.
    I'm getting the music bug again from having access to music that local stores won't stock and radio won't play,
    Buying it is another issue though as most of the myspace bands do not have infra structure set up to sell their music, yet.

    new zealand • Since May 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • robbery,

    I do crypto for a living

    I don't,
    I just outlined a concept for via DRM, as opposed to the rather naive "lets make all music free and pirate-able" concept.
    its up to you 'crypto for a living' guys to make it work.

    new zealand • Since May 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • robbery,

    the modern problem is that we have this quite archaic mechanism for protecting the rights of the middle men - the publishers -

    That's the over simplified view that pro 'free for all' proponents put forward to gloss over the fact that there are real people putting real work, time, effort, resources, and investment into the creation of music at the front end.
    You're dreaming if you think that the better sounding records are made for free at home. even an m-box, good microphone, set of speakers, headphones, etc etc costs a swag, not to mention the skill to run them properly just supposing you're not a natural genius at the technicalities of getting tone to disc. It all adds up and someone is paying for it somewhere. As in any business model there has to be a way to recoup costs or it all falls over.

    Yeah there are some exceptions to the rule but to push for a 'free for all' model for digital material is short sighted and naive. Its unsustainable and unrealistic based on what we know about human nature. Radiohead's latest being a prime example with 65% of downloaders choosing to pay nothing given the opportunity.

    new zealand • Since May 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    ...the sound, which was shrieky and very, very loud. Jeez.

    About halfway through the Bird Nest Roys first song I had to put earplugs in. Unlike at some gigs, where earplugs seem to suck the soul out of the music, it was loud enough that it just sounded like a normal rock gig.

    But I had a good time, anyway. Especially seeing King Loser and remembering how chaotically cool Celia is.

    wouldn't it be nice ... for the Bird Nest Roys cult to actually be able to download their album legally?

    With the Flying Nun website currently down (*ahem*), I had to turn elsewhere when I was looking for a Bird Nest Roys website to link to on my blog. I was surprised at all the little fansites out there full of music fans who'll drool over even just one mp3 of the Roys. There's an audience.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1863 posts Report Reply

  • robbery,

    the record executive and his coke habit, his lawyers - these all do the same thing that the computers and the internet can do at 1% of the cost

    major cliche.

    I've personally never bought a record that went through this kind of system. Indie self financed releases still have sizable costs to bring them to your stereo,
    do the math.
    indie record selling 1000 copies brings in nz$17000 (wholesale to shops retails for $32 - 75% mark up to the store inc gst)
    (david kilgour's albums sell in
    CD pressing for 1000 copies $2-3000
    Mastering costs - $400- $1000
    Artwork $600 - $1000
    Recording $5000- 15000 (low end budget)
    posters, promo ???
    cut for band ???
    doesn't really leave much does it.

    Forget about the coke snorting monster myth. that's dead and gone with the the end of the major labels and there weren't that many of them (and they mostly made music for the masses that music lovers hated), so that leaves a lot of honest folk who are left to get punished with the notion of evil mega corp, and their interests do need to be looked after. and playing it live to make up for the money you lost from recording it is kinda short sighted too. many many artists are not live performing acts.

    new zealand • Since May 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    all this Flying Nun speculation may be neither here nor there if Warner's stock price continues its downward spiral, and there seems little to stop it. Speculation seems rife in NY right now that deals are already being talked.

    Bye Bye WMG seems the likely outcome. Somebody will pick up the choice bits and chances are it won't be a record company, or even someone in the record industry, although I guess Apple, Amazon and Microsoft must be in the running.

    The upside will be that whoever it will likely bang much of it online everywhere for an easy return, DRM free. The downside is that they are unlikely to care much for obscure corners of the vast catalogue from NZ.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The upside will be that whoever it will likely bang much of it online everywhere for an easy return, DRM free. The downside is that they are unlikely to care much for obscure corners of the vast catalogue from NZ.

    The other goss is that Warners will flick the FN catalogue. What do you reckon it would be worth? Wanna start a syndicate?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Not a bad idea, eh?

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    Robbery: ditto on the major cliche.

    You're assuming people should be able to make better than ten thousand dollars revenue on making a thousand digital copies of a gig of information. It ain't fair, mate, and law or not people aren't taking it.

    Charge less than the time and effort it costs your customers to do it themselves at home, and reset your costs in line with whatever sales turn out to be. Just like every other industry, they'll get by, even if they can't continue to spend tens of millions turning out a new Britney Spears ever year or two.

    Since Nov 2006 • 480 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    even if they can't continue to spend tens of millions turning out a new Britney Spears ever year or two.

    there will always be the money and return for something like that. Flick onto MTV for five minutes and tell me its not so.....

    I think we'll get down to two or so old style record companies within 3-5 years (none based in NZ) whose only real role is to a) administer the massive catalogues, and b) fund the very expensive superstar acts. That, after all, is all that majors can offer now.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    The other goss is that Warners will flick the FN catalogue

    The problem there Russell, is that the real value in the FN catalogue was in the publishing and Gudinski kept that.

    Not sure why WMG would want to sell the FN cat..majors don't sell anything. Catalogue acquisition is the very core of their business.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    You're dreaming if you think that the better sounding records are made for free at home. even an m-box, good microphone, set of speakers, headphones, etc etc costs a swag, not to mention the skill to run them properly just supposing you're not a natural genius at the technicalities of getting tone to disc. It all adds up and someone is paying for it somewhere. As in any business model there has to be a way to recoup costs or it all falls over.

    I dunno.

    There are six pushing seven billion people in the world. I can find you a bunch of musical geniuses just in Hamilton where I grew up. (Really. Those people never got any kind of break...)

    Given the sheer size of the pool of talented people I think patronage and obsession will easily do as well as the current system in terms of getting good stuff out there. Eg, there is enough good music for several lifetimes in the classical Western canon from the 17th to the 19th centuries, from a much smaller population base than we have now. It is all bad news for musicians who want outsized returns from leveraging their intellectual property. The rest of us will get along fine.

    Ultimately a lot of people will not be able to pursue their dream of making a living from self-expression, and a very small minority will, just as now - but the selection process will be different, probably more meritocratic, and return to a stress on live performance. Tough shit, I think. At least, when the revolution comes, I'll be all for everybody who wants to being a full-time artist; until then, I'm not buying special pleading for it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2968 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    You're dreaming if you think that the better sounding records are made for free at home. even an m-box, good microphone, set of speakers, headphones, etc etc costs a swag, not to mention the skill to run them properly just supposing you're not a natural genius at the technicalities of getting tone to disc. It all adds up and someone is paying for it somewhere. As in any business model there has to be a way to recoup costs or it all falls over.

    I dunno.

    There are six pushing seven billion people in the world. I can find you a bunch of musical geniuses just in Hamilton where I grew up. (Really. Those people never got any kind of break...)

    Given the sheer size of the pool of talented people I think patronage and obsession will easily do as well as the current system in terms of getting good stuff out there. Eg, there is enough good music for several lifetimes in the classical Western canon from the 17th to the 19th centuries, from a much smaller population base than we have now. It is all bad news for musicians who want outsized returns from leveraging their intellectual property. The rest of us will get along fine.

    Ultimately a lot of people will not be able to pursue their dream of making a living from self-expression, and a very small minority will, just as now - but the selection process will be different, probably more meritocratic, and return to a stress on live performance. Tough shit, I think. At least, when the revolution comes, I'll be all for everybody who wants to being a full-time artist; until then, I'm not buying special pleading for it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2968 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    arg sorry folks: browser crash straight after posting fooled me.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2968 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    and return to a stress on live performance.

    A hell of a lot of fantastic music has been made over the decades by people who simply don't do live performance..I think this is being overstated everywhere right now.

    Copyright protection is a cornerstone of our civilization. Much of the great music we love would never have happened, or at least been allowed to breath, without it. We need to be VERY careful about going too far in the other direction.

    And a small group of people will always make a lot of money from it..always

    Just as Radiohead have cleaned up in the last couple of months by selling themselves as counter-capitalist revolutionaries. Where there is a will...

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • Finn Higgins,

    I'm anti-DRM solely for the reason that it doesn't work, and short of major changes to the way that consumer PCs work it isn't going to. Putting it simply, DRM is a shonky idea purely because it's a confused one: cryptography is perfectly functional for preventing unauthorised people from being able to access the content of a message. But DRM is rather unclear about who is authorised - is the person buying the music authorised to get at the unencrypted bits of data? They have to be at some point, or it ain't coming out of their sound card. Short of a completely cryptographically secured platform all the way down to the sound card hardware there's no way you can ultimately stop people making digital copies of something that'll play on your PC. You just make a driver that spits the bits back into a file, ala the PDF "printer" drivers that people are used to using to get PDF files out of Word.

    And hell, even if you stop people making digital copies... well... people got by fine with dubbing tapes for years. One trip through the analogue hole and bye-bye goes any crypto and you can pass it around all you like.

    Quite simply, ever since PCs started being sold as "multimedia" PCs and came with CD burners people have expected to be able to copy music with them - it's a factor in why everybody has one, being honest about it. Before the computer would do it, the stereo would and people bought lots of those instead. Copying music is a cultural expectation and has been for generations, it's just got much easier to distribute the copies since the advent of the internet. Unfortunately, illegal distribution got the market share first and became the "killer app" the industry had missed: immediate, available, searchable access to back-catalogue music. And they're still playing catch-up against a market with many, many customers who're now used to not paying for downloads and getting DRM-free (and increasingly, lossless-encoded)
    music out the back of it. Why should people pay for an inferior service to what the illegal options are putting out there and ultimately the odds of being caught are miniscule? That's always been the failure of the DRM model.

    But with that said, Simon's right: if you like music then you probably like some people who wouldn't get rich-man patronage, or other people who wouldn't have existed without those people's influence. Patronage enabled a comparatively stagnant class-divided musical culture that moved at a snails-pace compared to the extremely eclectic and rapid development that has happened since the advent of recorded popular music in the 20th century. Copyright and the ability to pay people for doing a good job of recording performances has made so many new kinds of music possible. Pick any contemporary instrument and you'll see techniques and concepts being used every day in popular music that only became possible because of recording. Live music is great, but it's not the be-all and end-all of musical experience or expression.

    If we're going to pay people for making good things and we accept that the PC platform as we know it isn't about to get locked down end-to-end in a hurry (and therefore DRM can never be anything other than a complicated waste of time) then there only seems to be only remaining option: compulsory bulk licensing, and everybody paying for their downloads as part of the cost of being connected to the internet. It works for radio, it works for public use of music in venues like cafes and clubs. I think ultimately we're going to have to accept that the internet has turned into another "public space" for music and bulk license it the same way, then musicians can get back to getting paid and people can keep downloading all they damn well like...

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 209 posts Report Reply

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