Fans Rejoice! Music Goes Green!

This is one post in a series, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

Yesterday was a great day for music fans. I'm a music fan. I carried audio tapes around in the late 80s, switched to a book of CDs in the 90s and now I use an mp3 player.

Up until about 6 months ago I didn't think much about driving to the store, buying a new CD, taking it out of the bag, pealing off the shrink wrap, fighting with those ridiculous security stickers on the top of the case, ripping the CD to my iPod, throwing away the case, and putting the CD in a CD book that would collect dust for the rest of my life. And then I got to thinking... It took oil to make the plastic for all the CD and all the stuff I threw away, then the CDs had to be shipped to the store so I could drive there to buy the music, and physical media doesn't have any value to me! It's the bits on the CD I actually use. Seems like a lot of waste...

An obvious alternative is download-able music. But there was a big catch:

Digital Rights Management
Most recording companies mandate that download-able music vendors employ a Digital Rights Management system. DRM locks the music you purchase to a fixed number of computers and specific devices. iTunes DRM music can't be played on anything but iTunes and an iPod, and Windows DRM (employed by the Massachusetts library system for online audio books) can't be played on anything but Windows devices.

"The Massachusetts online library doesn't work with iPods?" I asked. In response, two librarians, separated in time and space, suggested I go out, buy a writable CD, burn the Windows DRM encrypted audio book to a CD and then rip it into iTunes so you can listen to it on an iPod. Not the most environmentally friendly process for listening to an audio book.

So with DRM you don't really own music you buy because sooner or later the DRM will stop you from using the music. And even if you're only borrowing the music, you have to go out and buy the specific player that plays that type of DRM.

All of this DRM headache is supposed to keep people from purchasing music online and mass sharing it with the rest of the world. But it doesn't work. DRM gets cracked and some people mass share music. Then the record companies try to clamp down with more DRM and it gets cracked a few days later. Its a silly cycle of waisted effort that is also a drain on the music industry. I wonder if it's embarrassing to monkeys that they're related to the species that still think DRM is a good idea.

In the mean time is providing music without DRM for staggeringly low prices. They appear to be leveraging a loophole in some antiquated Russian copyright laws that allow them to sell music without paying the authors or producers of that music. Their music is DRM free in mp3 format, they have a good choice of bit-rate (quality) and they have a big selection. With the exception of one ethical issue, of them not paying the content authors (see the previous loophole), allofmp3 has put together a great model for distributing online music.

Back To My Footprint
So 6 months ago I decided to stop buying new CDs. DRM is a broken system and would eventually go away. If I absolutely had to buy a CD I'd buy used. That way I'm not supporting the recording industry that is pushing the DRM and not contributing to the scourge like production of new CDs. Think millions of tons per month...

My plan was that once music was available for download without DRM I'd start buying again. I even created a DRM Wait-List containing music titles I'd purchase when they became available online without DRM.

The Big Day For DRM Free Music
Yesterday, thanks to Apple and EIM I got to vote with my wallet and purchase DRM free download-able music. For $12.99 an album you can purchase from some (not all) of the music on iTunes. The music labeled iTunes Plus is DRM free! Unfortunately many of the titles on my DRM wait list are still on the list. Most of the recording companies are hanging on to the sinking ship that is DRM. Hopefully others will vote with their wallets and we can put this DRM silliness behind us.

One neat thing about how Apple does the DRM free music and still provide a modicum of protection against mass sharing of the files is they put your Apple username into the file when you purchase it. It shows up when you look at the file details. Some people have complained about this, but it seems like a fair step. You can use the file any way you like. Unless you're really tech savvy you won't know how to pull that information out of the file. So the average person that starts mass sharing a music file can be easily tracked down and fed to a wilder beast.

Download-able DRM free music means less CDs, a massively smaller environmental impact from music and the occasional wilder beast feeding. Everybody wins.