T.U.R.: Is It Going Away?

Monday, 2007-January-22 at 11:01

These links came from Groklaw.

The Register has a story about a music industry insider who believes that blanket licensing is coming to music.  Peter Jenner, who has managed such big name acts as Pink Floyd and The Clash, says "Digital music pricing has been a scam where the consumer pays for manufacturing, distribution, and does all the work – and still has to pay more." He expects this to change.

But he’s also optimistic that for almost everyone else – indie labels, musicians, songwriters and budding entrepreneurs – as well as network providers – the future’s going to be pretty bright. The Big Four know that the DRM era is nearly over – and within two or three years, he predicts, "most countries" in the world will have a blanket licensing regime where we exchange music freely, for a couple of quid a month.

In the future, he also suggests, artists, co-ops and managers will raise their own investment on behalf of artists – and pick and choose their marketing teams.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), as the media distribution companies like to call Technological Usage Restrictions (TUR), has turned away consumers, he believes.  First, people saw how underhanded the companies could be with Sony-BMG and the rootkit scandal.  This was followed, he says, by people's dissatisfaction with digital music services.  I understand that part, because one of my nephews was unable to connect his MP3 player to Yahoo MusicMatch for a while, so he lost the ability to use his music.

In another Register article, we read about one of the RIAA board members, Larry Kenswil, president of Universal Music Group's eLabs, admitting that the old ways of business are going away.  "We can't think of it as counting unit sales anymore," said Kenswil. "We have to license … and think like the publishers."

International Herald Tribune also has a story about this phenomenon.  "We could release everything today without DRM and still make lots of money," Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said at Midem over the weekend. "And I think we’ll see a lot more of that."

Executives of several technology companies meeting here at Midem, the annual global trade fair for the music industry, said this weekend that a move toward the sale of unrestricted digital files in the MP3 format from at least one of the four major record companies could come within months.

Of course, not everything is roses yet.  The RIAA's chairman believes that usage restrictions are the only way they can make money.  They were able to turn back a French bill which would have legalized peer-to-peer sharing of music, with a flat-rate blanket fee paid by Internet service providers.  Still, I'd have to say that overall, we can see the end of usage restrictions coming, it just is not as close as we hoped.

I'm going to keep saying this, in the hope that people will start to call it what it is:

TUR
Technological Usage Restrictions—the use of technology to restrict the ways that purchasers can use music, software, and other "content" they have purchased.  This is often euphemistically referred to as "digital rights management", or DRM.  These are often promoted as anti-theft measures.  However, organized criminal gangs can and do break any restrictions fairly quickly.  The restrictions are most effective against someone who purchases music or video and finds that he or she can only play it on one particular device, but is neither technically-sophisticated nor malicious.

I do not approve of stealing music, software, or other "content".  However, I grew up recording songs from radio onto cassettes, along with occasionally purchasing records, cassettes, and even 8-tracks.  We didn't distribute our copies—who would have wanted them anyway—but we listened to them frequently.  This was allowed under the then-prevailing rules: the music industry got a few cents out of every blank tape purchase to compensate for any lost sales.  The industry needs to rethink its business model, even if this means that huge monolithic music groups are replaced by smaller independents and artists' cooperatives.

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