Previewing Lessons Learned From FairUse4WM

On the one hand, I’ve said that most users won’t care about FairUse4WM
because they already could easily get unencrypted
copies. On the other hand, Janus DRM has discouraged music fans from subscribing and hurt online music businesses. 
In what sense can both these statements be true?  In short, music fans
would flock to a true all-you-can-eat mp3 subscription service, but, don’t be surprised if FairUse4WM has little impact on user adoption of subscription services.

Many users who currently rely on P2P
would put down money for a slick Rhapsody-like service that didn’t
restrict their uses, just like many online music users already flit
between iTunes and P2P depending on which happens to be more convenient
at a given moment.  And, in the long run, an all-you-can-eat mp3
service may be where we’re headed.

But in the short run, I don’t
think that’s how things will play out.  Most music fans still don’t
want anything that smells like a subscription “rental” service, and,
unless FairUse4WM gets integrated into Rhapsody in some form, it
doesn’t make the experience seamless enough. The iTunes Music Store has
dominated the market not just because of the price point, but because
it and the iPod work with no fuss.  In contrast,
Rhapsody-to-FairUse4WM-to-iPod still requires some energy, and, more to
the point, Rhapsody+P2P downloading will for many people be as or more
convenient than Rhapsody+FairUse4WM.  FairUse4WM may make some current
Rhapsody customers happy, but it won’t attract too many new ones. 

remember that this hack could be cut off, potentially by forced
upgrades or by the roll-out of new subscription services and devices
down the road.  That could prompt users to tune out the licensed
services even more, but it will give certain industry folks the sense
that this was a victory for DRM. After all, if the DRM can’t be broken
once and then run everywhere forever, it “works,” right?

Of course not — as I said, most users who want
to get around the DRM already can easily do so through
non-circumvention means, and, as Engadget argued, the people who would
download the whole catalog and then cancel the subscription aren’t
going to be Rhapsody customers anyway. The DRM might get a few extra
pennies out of a few people, but that’s far less than the money
Rhapsody would attract with mp3s, and it certainly ain’t enough to
build an online music service business around.  The service providers like Yahoo already understand this, but the record labels don’t or have other interests in mind, and middlemen like Microsoft are indifferent.

my worry — one that in part motivated my initial analysis — is that the
music industry and others will take all the wrong lessons away from this, and none
of the right ones.  Stay tuned, and hope for the best. As both an Activist and a Rhapsody user, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

FairUse4WM Benefits Music Fans *and* Online Music Services

My report on FairUse4WM, the Windows Media DRM evasion tool, focused on whether users would care. Again, I think most music fans won’t care about the tool, though the few subscribers who are unwilling or unable to use the readily-available alternative avenues for acquiring unencrypted content will be quite happy.

But the question remains: will online music subscription businesses be harmed by the tool? And will Microsoft block music fans’ ability to make fair use of legitimately acquired music and respond with DMCA threats or even lawsuits, perhaps at the record labels’ behest?

Engadget makes the case for why they shouldn’t in an open letter published today:

“We’re big fans of the subscription services [which currently use Microsoft DRM] … but let’s face facts: the damn things don’t work very well. It’s pretty easy to download tracks, but it’s a serious pain in the ass to successfully transfer them to a portable device…. [W]e get tons of emails from consumers complaining about how hard it is to get Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music Unlimited, etc. tracks on to their players, or, god forbid, Macs.

“Are a lot of people going to pay $15 to sign up for a subscription service, download a ton of music, and then cancel a month later? Absolutely, but that’s not a big deal. Those people were never, ever going to sign up for a service that offers locked down music anyway, so be happy that you squeezed any money out of them at all. (Yeah, this does make it tougher to offer free, unlimited trials, but that’s not the end of the world.) Could those same people then put all the music they’ve just downloaded up on the P2P networks? Sure, but all that music is available there anyway, so it shouldn’t make a bit of difference in the grand scheme of things.”

Well said — the DRM doesn’t do anything to stop music “pirates,” but it does discourage potential customers from ever using licensed music services. In turn, the DRM hurts not only music fans, but also online music download and subscription businesses, as Yahoo! is quite willing to admit. Certainly, Microsoft and the record labels have some unique interests in perpetuating the Windows Media DRM and stifling start-up innovators. But let’s hope Microsoft and the major record labels lay off the lawsuits and, ultimately, the DRM.

(Cross-posted at DeepLinks)