Essays on Technology and Culture

The Music DRM Dark Age Isn’t Coming Back

So, with the coming new Apple Streaming service, Nilay Patel at The Verge has realized that streaming music means a return to the Dark Days of DRM:

[N]ext week Apple is probably going to launch another streaming service, and if history is any guide, it’s only going to work with Apple products. That means I’ll have yet a fourth music service in my life (Spotify, Google Play Music, Prime, and Apple Music) and a fourth set of content exclusives and pricing windows to think about instead of just listening to music.

Apple Music and the terrible return of DRM | The Verge

It’s hard for me to feel any sympathy for this argument, especially since I dropped about $100 on new vinyl in the last few months. There are very few advantages to vinyl in a digital age, but one of them is that I don’t have to worry about whether the music is exclusive to any particular streaming provider. And, hey, most new vinyl these days includes a card to download the music in DRM-unencumbered MP3 format.

The problem of streaming lock-in isn’t even new. Just look at the frustration every time something falls off of Netflix, or when Taylor Swift pulled her music off Spotify. Why is Apple (re-)entering the streaming fray any different? Is it because the fiery Anti-DRM sentiment of Steve Jobs’s “Thoughts on Music” is now off the Apple website? Oh noes! An eight year old missive about the state of buying music is no longer being hosted by Apple! Clearly this means we’re entering a New Dark Age of DRM-based streaming horrors.

I’m going to make a wild prediction: the iTunes Music Store, with its gobs and gobs of DRM-free M4A files isn’t going to go away on Monday, or any time for the foreseeable future. [1] Neither is the Amazon MP3 store, or Google Play’s Music store. If you’re so worried about not being able to have access to the music you want without having to switch between four various streaming services, and paying $40 a month for the privilege, you can take that $40 and buy four albums worth of music from the online music storefront of your choice. Or, you can take that $40 to a local, independent music store and buy it that way. The iTunes Music Store will still be open after Monday. Your local record store might not.

Steve Jobs’s “Thoughts on Music” essay accomplished what it intended to do. There are no digital music stores on the Internet that sell music with DRM. Not even Pono. There’s plenty of options for those of us who want to have control over the music we’re paying for. Streaming isn’t going to take that away. Nilay moans: “Am I really despairing for the days when I maintained a huge collection of legal and not-so-legal MP3 files that could play on any device I owned without any hassle?” Maybe you are, Nilay. There’s no despair from this streaming holdout.

  1. It better not go away on Monday. I have the new album by FFS, the Franz Ferdinand and Sparks supergroup on pre-order, and it comes out on Tuesday.  ↩