Coming Zune: Viral DRM

You have to wonder about the value of a product with features like those detailed in this Medialoper article:

What Microsoft has created is a new form of viral DRM. Zune will intentionally infect your music with the DRM virus before passing it along to one of your friends. After three listens the poor song dies a horrible DRM enabled death. Talk about innovation.

Microsoft will undoubtedly claim this limitation is designed to support artists and prevent piracy. There’s just one problem. Not all artists want their music protected by DRM. Furthermore, not all artists benefit from having their music protected by DRM.

While it may come as a surprise to Microsoft and the major labels, independent musicians frequently promote their music by posting unencrypted mp3 files on their websites in hopes of finding an audience. If Zune is really all about community, as Microsoft claims it is, then it would allow music to spread virally, instead of DRM.

It will be interesting to see how this, and other devices like it, are accepted amongst the gadget-grabbing public. Is three days / plays enough before the spending circuit in your brain gets tripped and you run out to buy the CD? Or is it just enough of a hassle that you merely forget what you were listening to, move on to other tracks? (Perhaps this is what the industry wants: limited plays recharged every few days—at a premium, of course—regardless of whether or not you actually buy the CD.)

And what about the indie bands, like Clawn or Burning Tree Project (yes, shameless plug!), bands without mainstream distribution who are trying to get their music out there? Is the Zune’s DRM nurturing the community of up-and-comers—or is it merely fortifying the pockets of the major labels, widening the barrier between “signed” and “unsigned”?

I suppose I just don’t see how digital leashing is anything but a nuisance, a thinly-veiled cop-out for record labels unable (or unwilling) to put out quality material. If record sales are down, it’s because there is less interest in the music—but instead of improving their catalogs, the record companies are trying to find ways to capitalize further on what they already have. As far as pirating goes, the real problem stems from actual pirating rings, the people with disc replicators in their basements and IRC channels dedicated to file swapping. Forcing DRM down the throats of consumers is like fitting your kids with flea collars and letting the dog run free.

It’s a given that people share what they like. It’s also a given that people buy what they like. Casual sharing has to be addressed, sure, but tech like this only adds insult to injury.