DRM is Like Paying for Ice

By Richard Menta 6/25/06

When I was still in High School I worked at Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. During my tenure at this minimum wage job I made quite a few friends who worked in food operations and was privy to their gripes and frustrations. As I remember, one of their biggest headaches came from a standing edict by management with regards to soft drinks.

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In Great Adventure every cup had to be filled to the top with a finely crushed ice before the soda was added. It didn't take a genius to figure out why. The more ice used the less actual soda went in the cup. This was in the days before super sizing, when it finally dawned on the bean counters that the actual amount of syrup used in cup of soda was fiscally insignificant. Back in the 80's, middle managers honestly thought they were generating more profit by this dubious practice. It was a pretty expensive cup of soda too, yet if a customer asked for no ice to counter this tactic they were charged an additional $0.25 for the pleasure.

Needless to say, consumers were quite dissatisfied by the practice if not downright angry about it. Still, on a hot July day folks lined up for drinks as they had little option - other than to complain. They complained about the price, they complained about the ice, they complained that management was pretending to be deaf to their complaints. Management did provide tap water at these stands - without ice and for the same price as a soft drink.

Security had to get involved too. Not from angry consumers on the line, but to look for mothers trying to sneak beverages into the park. Yup, mothers who turned to crime to affordably hydrate their children. But, it was an issue of value more than anything else. In the end those who purchased soft drinks were mostly paying for ice; cola flavored ice after a few draws on the straw drained the true amount of coke in that cup.

To recap:

Adding digital rights management (DRM) to paid music tracks has turned very much into the equivalent of the ice analogy I described. It devalues the consumer experience to a point where it diminishes enjoyment and generates frustration. At least ice in the proper portions can enhance the experience. The same can't be said for DRM. Consumers don't want it, but it is being thrust upon them.

The restrictions go beyond protecting tracks from being traded online - a protection that is moot as all of these songs have been freely available on the file sharing applications for years. It is used to lock consumers to proprietary technology. It is used to control supply and push higher prices. It is used to undermine practices we have long defined as fair use so they can be shifted to fee-based. As DRM-laden consumers begin to mix digital devices from different manufacturers and sources, restrictions imposed by DRM will become more visible. All of this is made worse by the fact that suppliers (the record and movie companies), vendors (Apple, Napster) and device makers (Apple, Sony, Microsoft) each promote their own take on DRM with conflicting goals. Interoperability is discouraged.

But consumers do have a choice and they have been exercising it for years. That choice is the MP3 format, which is DRM-free and the only universal format on the market. Pass all the laws you want, because as awareness continues to increase on DRM the market will adjust.

Other MP3 stories:
Movie and Record Industry Piracy Figures Incendiary, But Not Fact
Review: Neuros MPEG4 Video Recorder 2

The 30GB iPod Video is available on Amazon

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