Apple’s streaming music subscription service has finally been announced (I’ve been waiting for this since they acquired Beats a little over a year ago). As I got to the bottom of that article, I saw a link to an article entitled Apple Music and the terrible return of DRM. Now, I think this article unfairly places blame on subscription based streaming services. It’s a use case that I can certainly understand. I don’t use it for music, but I do use it for video. But streaming media isn’t all subscription based, and that’s where there’s a problem. I’ve touched on this before on the blog. I had a brief aside dedicated to it in my review of Ripped. And I’ve gone into the ridiculous DRM that’s on eBooks. And yes, I know it’s possible to remove DRM. The point is I shouldn’t have to. But it’s time to dedicate an entire post to the issue of DRM within app ecosystems.
If you are a member of Gen X or an older Millennial you remember the fight over DRM and music. You remember fighting with Microsoft PlaysForSure (which of course didn’t work with all Microsoft products. I’m looking at you Zune). You remember buying copy protected CDs. You remember the Sony rootkit. You remember buying songs on iTunes and only being able to listen to them on your iPod or through iTunes. And you remember how awesome it was when the record companies realized we weren’t going to deal with that mess, and they were forced to stop using DRM. I remember being absolutely giddy when I could finally buy a song and just listen to it wherever with whatever I wanted.
But here we are, ten years later, and we’ve traded that for convenience. We buy books on Kindle (myself included) because it’s easy and convenient. And hey we can practically read them anywhere because we just have to install an app. The same goes with Amazon Instant Video and Google Play Video. I can watch it anywhere I have the app! I can even download it to devices with the app (but not a computer). Even physical movies still have the DRM protection that used to be on CDs (again, I know I can get around it. I shouldn’t have to). Why should we fight for DRM free media when all it takes is an app?
I can see you rolling your eyes at me through the screen now. Why does it matter if it’s an app if it can run on all devices? For one, it’s not all devices. In my post about eBooks, I detail how I was on Nook and now I’m on Kindle. I can’t get my Nook books easily onto my eInk Kindle. If I want to run Plex, I can’t easily add my Google Play videos to it. (There is a workaround, but again, it shouldn’t be this hard to watch my legally purchased content.) If I want to download a movie to a laptop to watch where there’s no decent WiFi (think hotels and airplanes), again, I’m out of luck. There’s also the future proofing issue. These apps exist now, but there’s no guarantee they always will. And while data types can become outdated as well, you have more conversion options when you aren’t shackled by DRM.
To reiterate, I’m not saying that subscription based streaming is bad or ruining content or anything of that nature. I’m not even saying this is one of the more important issues in tech. I’m saying DRM on content you have flat out purchased is icky. I’m saying that when we buy content, we should be able to access it however we damn well please.