New Apple Music Store – Music for the Masses or DRM hell?

A lot of noise has been made on Apple’s New Music Store. A faction of people cry as soon as they see the DRM acronym in its blurb, while for others -the majority- the whole idea seems to be a godsend. What is it?

For years now the music industry has tried to find a way to use the Internet as a distribution medium without either eating away hard-copy sales or giving the users too much control over what they can do with the music.
Napster officially started (as it existed before in more rudimentary, non-P2P form) what later became the proof that music could live and thrive in the Internet. As bandwidth costs plummetted, encoding processes got faster and everyone had access to big drives where to store the music it soon became obvious the time was prime for some moves by the music corporations.
Several attempts have been made in the past, all of them fruitless, and everyone in the assorted boards of directors fail to see the cause:

The reason d’etre for having the music in your computer is versatility.
Limiting of the user’s choices is an instant deterrant on buying music.

Apple seems to have struck a happy medium between the desires of music companies and the needs of users. Microsoft had pitched DRM schemes in the past which not only implied that users didn’t actually *own* their music, but that the players had the power to delete other music not covered by the DRM guidelines and even other software that didn’t support them. People, on the other hand, wanted to have music bought easily and cheaply, they wanted to be able to have that music installed in their music players, be able to make CDs off it and to be able to share the music among their machines.
Here is where most of the noise has been made by detractors of Apple’s system. Most of the arguments seem to be of the following:
1.-“I have more than three computers and I want to share the music among all of them”
2.-“Why only ten copies of the same playlist. I don’t want to be limited in this way”
3.-“Why can’t I share the music streaming it to unlimited clients?”
4.-“192bps AAC is too low a bitrate for my high-end sound studio and it’s unbearably to listen to it”

These arguments are all debatable but the actual fact that mustn’t escape people trying to impartially comment on Apple’s guidelines is this: Majority rules. The majority are not the Music companies, and that’s why their guidelines open things more than the former would’ve wanted. The majority aren’t the power users, either, who may have 12 computers in their houses (and may have achieved the miracle of having all the people in the house in all the computers like the same music) and may have -however unlikely as it sounds- a reason for needing unlimited streaming of music over the network or the Internet. The majority definitively isn’t the high-end audiophiles who may have $100K of sound equipment connected, of all things, to a computer or an iPod playing MP3 files.

The majority of intended audience are music aficionados, who may like both good-enough music and the versatility digital files provide. It’s people who may have two or three computers at the most in their houses, most of the time not networked together but may have two or more iPods for playing music. It’s the people who would hardly find a reason for making five legitimate copies of the same CD, let alone ten.

Sadly, “inalienable personal rights of fair use” (which are not so, as they’re not an actual legal option, but a common and allowed practice) has become the official excuse for people lobbying against DRM systems. People who confuse that it was easy to make copies before and corporations didn’t want to spend the resources needed to fight this with these practice being their right. Sadly the reality is also that for every person that legitimately believes that their asking for reasonable right (as deluded as it may be) there are two hundred who are covering behind these same arguments to be able to keep on trading music (and files, as this may become an antecedent for other media in the future) freely (and, arguably, illegally).

What, you, inexistent reader[1], maye be asking, then, is “So you’re implying that Apple is some sort of Panacea when it comes to digital music? That they’re infallible in their decisions? (you mac bigot!)” and the answer would be a simple “No”. The Music Store has several limitations which need to be addressed before it’s the best option there can be (as it stands right now it’s the best option there is, but far from perfect). I can think of a few and you can probably think of more, but it’s important that the complaints you may have on the system are based on a reasonable ground and that you may, perhaps, not be the intended audience of the Music Store (this is much more important if you think 256Kbps MP3 is the minimum allowable for music or if you need to share your music, without paying royalties, to several computers in your network or with the world).

What I would like Apple fixed:

-One of the features hyped when iTunes came out was it’s interaction with third-party MP3 players like the Rio. These players can’t play the AACs provided by the Apple Music Store. Apple should provide APIs for third-parties to implement in their players, so they can take advantage of the AAC files (and users are not left out by something hyped to them when they adopted iTunes not working anymore)

-Apple should also provide APIs (or hardware) for wireless sound receivers (more and more popular nowadays as a way to hear music in decent stereo systems) through AirPort, if need be. Either this or helping third-parties create easy hook-ups for the iPod for the home stereo (not cable adapters, but docking stations like the current one that understand the iPod’s filesystem and read it accordingly, with their own wireless remote)[2]

-I’d like to be able to download music in MP3 (although I understand the conundrum here, if DRM has to be kept) since I listen to my music in other computers not using MacOSX (Darwin, Linux, Sun, HP-UX). I doubt Apple will release iTunes with AAC support for Linux, although that’d be nice.

-The Music store should really embrace international customers quickly, as the feeling that Apple only looks to the US for new technologies is becoming more a frustration of users (like the fiasco with past hype like iPhoto printing of photographs and albums[4] or the support in Sherlock. I understand it’s not easy, as copyright and royalties laws are different in most countries, as the handling of credit cards and fees, but still it should be addressed (or shouldn’t have been promised to start with)

-Apple should make an statement making it clear that if the venture proves to not be viable (two weeks is hardly enough to make a call on the long-term viability of it) measures will be taken for users to be able to enjoy their music for years to come (with a special version of itunes that allows for music to be converted to MP3 without the currently-necessary step of burning to CD beforehand). As succintly stated by someone with better summarizing skills than myself: “People don’t want to be buying the digital equivalent of 8-track tapes”.

-Rendezvous (and Internet) sharing should be able to share AAC files (as far as I know right now it doesn’t), although limits could be set (no more than three “clients” allowed, for example)

And remember, it’s not intended to be a service-for-everyone but a service-for-the-majority. If the bitrate is too low, or the DRM too limiting, or it’s cheaper for you to buy old CDs at discount bins or you prefer to have the original artwork and case for the CD then, by all means, don’t use the Music Store and don’t bitch about it not being for you as it, clearly, isn’t.

I was planning on putting a bunch of links in here. But I was lazy. I may add them later on..:)

[1]For noone reads this blog..:)
[2] Are you reading, Griffin?[3]
[3] Of course not. Dumb me for asking
[4] Should that be “Alba”? The plural of “Album”?

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