Stop DRM from becoming a "privacy nightmare"

The news that iTunes will offer songs from the three of the largest labels free of copy protection software was music to the ears of many users. Privacy experts say it's a sign the industry is realizing how counter-productive digital rights management (DRM) limitations actually are.

Many iTunes users were delighted when Apple announced, last month, that it had cut deals with three of the largest music labels - Warner Music, Sony BMG and Universal Music Group - to offer songs free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.

(Apple had already been offering DRM-free songs from the fourth big label - EMI - for more than a year).

Music to their ears

Users were even more thrilled to discover they could strip their existing DRM-wrapped music of the controversial software. But their exhilaration plummeted a bit when they learned it would costs them more to get a DRM-free version of their existing track.

Today, in addition to iTunes, millions of DRM-free songs are available via PureTracks - which recently announced a new DRM-free mobile music store and service for BlackBerry smartphones.

Some observers see all this as an indication the industry is realizing how futile and ultimately counterproductive DRM limitations actually are.

"Many companies and industries, especially the music industry, have recognized that using DRM, of often does more harm than good," said Michael Geist, Canada research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.

These "digital locks," he said, only serve to irritate customers.

DRM-free music is devoid of restrictions such as how many devices can store a purchased song, which devices it will play on, and how many times the song can be burned on to a CD.

DRM turns to nightmare

"We found repeated instances of companies offering up DRM music and then deciding at some future point to stop supporting that particular form of DRM," said Geist.

When that happens, he said, users find they're locked out of their purchases when they switch computers. "I think that raises a very significant consumer concern."

Huge changes in consumer buying patterns are at the root of this problem, other Canadian observers say.

"Content industry proponents believe people aren't paying as much for music and movies as they previously did," said Russell McOrmond, a leader in the open source movement.

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