With Apple’s announcement at the beginning of the year that the iTunes Store, the biggest online music store, was removing its FairPlay DRM from all of its music, it seems like DRM-restricted music may be coming to an end, in the US at least. However, the situation is very different in Japan, where the RIAJ (Recording Industry Association of Japan, essentially Japan’s version of the RIAA) is pushing to implement DRM on all cell phones in Japan.
Five years ago, the idea of DRM cell phones would not be a huge deal, as most people had separate MP3 players and did not use their phones for music. However, as cell phones, MP3 players, and PDAs are increasingly meshed into portable all-in-one devices, like the iPhone and Palm Pre, many people are playing music on these devices.
The proposed DRM will work on the server-side, which means that every time a person wishes to play a song on their cell phone, the cell phone will communicate with a server to check if the file was legally purchased. If it is, the server will send the proper response back to the cell phone, allowing the song to be played. If everything goes according to the RIAJ’s plan, the system can be in place as early as 2011.
This DRM system raises a number of questions. There are many online music stores out there, and the DRM would have to work with music purchased from every single one. This seems somewhat unlikely, as the current online music store trend is a move away from DRM, not towards it. Would global online music stores like the iTunes Store be willing to implement some form of DRM into their songs just to appease the RIAJ? Such a measure would probably be quite costly, since DRM files (for the Japanese market) would have to be created, while maintaining the non-DRM files for the rest of the world. Another important note is that not everyone gets their music from an online music store. How would the system handle songs ripped from a purchased audio CD? How would it deal with MP3s released by fledging artists for free? In both of these cases, DRM would probably be absent from the MP3 file. How would the service verify these tracks? If the DRM were implemented perfectly, it would be a good way to reduce piracy. Yet, it is hard to believe that the DRM implementation will be perfect, and it is inevitable that some users will be unable to play their legitimately purchased songs. Ultimately, then, it seems like this system will cause more frustration and problems than it will attempt to solve, and should be avoided for the benefit of the average user who just wants to listen to a few songs on the go.