Does digital rights management have a future?

Apple’s Steve Jobs has called for the record industry to abandon digital rights management for all online music stores. He has posted a statement on the Apple web site which argues the case for abandoning a system about which Apple often takes flack from consumers. The main complaints are its restrictions on 5 copies and the fact that songs bought via the iTunes store can only be played on Apple iPods (not other brands of MP3 players). Another major plank of Job’s argument is that music sold on CD’s is not copy protected and this represents 97% of the music sold.

There was no mention of the film and TV industry in Job’s statement but the implication is that it equally applies to digital moving pictures. HD DVD and BlueRay DVD DRM systems have both reportedly been cracked which means that pirating video content is set to continue unabated. So what are the solutions? Is it widespread litigation, fighting the scourge of piracy until they are all banished to eastern Europe and western China? Or could a blanket licence agreement that is hammered out between internet service providers, the artists, the studios and the tech companies be a possible way forward. Why not charge a levy to everyone with an internet connection to let them freely download from an archive of content – with guaranteed quality of service in image quality and download speed. Then there would be no point in downloading pirated material. This is an interesting idea that was raised in an interview with Peter Jenner, famous manager of bands including the Clash and Pink Floyd. He predicts that in three years time these agreements will be widespread and that DRM will be behind us. Let’s hope so.

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