It seems like it’s one step forward, two steps back in the music biz. No sooner does Sony BMG announce that they’re moving to a DRM-free platform for digital downloads, than their publishing arm, Sony/ATV, halts all future licenses for streaming.
OK, this is somewhat complicated stuff, so I’ll try to unpack it for you. Let’s start with the first part. DRM, in case you weren’t aware, is a type of coded "lock" that blocks users from duplicating digital audio files or playing them across multiple platforms and devices. Of course, it can easily be stripped, making it about as effective as the War on Drugs. Last week, Sony became the fourth (and final) major label to switch to a DRM-free catalog. This is good news for most consumers.
The licensing thing I mentioned applies to streaming subscription services and "limited" downloads (those that are part of a subscription service, but which disappear upon cancellation of said subscription). Providers of such services include Rhapsody (my fave), Napster (the legal version) and MediaNet. So why is Sony/ATV putting the kibosh on future licenses?
It all comes down to classification. Downloads fall under the "digital phonorecord delivery" (DPD) category, which need to be licensed for "reproduction." The Digital Media Association (a trade group whose member companies include Apple Computer, MediaNet, Napster, RealNetworks and Yahoo!), are contending that webstreams and limited downloads aren’t actually DPDs. Therefore, they argue, they should only have to pay a performance right royalty. And they filed a motion with the Copyright Royalty Board stating just that.
Still with me?
Sony/ATM have allegedly called the filing "underhanded." Today, they instructed the Harry Fox Agency (America’s largest mechanical license collection and distribution agency) to stop all future licensing of its repertoire for streaming or limited downloads.
Rumor has it, other major publishers will soon suspend their future licenses, too.
To be fair, the Digital Music Media Association agreed to observe the DPD back in 2001, via private agreement. So the publishers have something of a right to be miffed at DiMA’s recent CRB filing.
That said, all this bewildering bullshit only creates further roadblocks to a stable digital music environment. It’s all fine and good that we can now buy DRM-free MP3s, but for those (like me) who have embraced the subscription model, the licensing snag amounts to a major setback.
Thanks for bearing with me while I got that off my chest. I promise I’ll post something more fun (and less complicated) soon.