Music services embedding personal info into the songs you buy as sekret DRM isn't new. But it could take on a whole new level of relevance once cloud-based music streaming services from Apple or Amazon or Google finally launch.
As those three work out deals with the major labels to do a cloud-based music service, TechCrunch's sources say that the labels "are demanding that a user can only stream music that is watermarked to their username." The major reason this would be a step backward as described, is that backdoor DRM, as privacy advocates like to call the practice of scribbling your user info inside a song, didn't incur any functional limitations. It was like writing your name on a CD. A little weird, but it'd still play perfectly on anything it's shoved on, like any other DRM-free music, just with the fairly reasonable expectation that it's not shared with a million other people.
What's being described here sounds like more of a functional limitation, turning user data into a more active form of DRM, if songs can only be played by a specific username on a specific service. It's venturing into Steam-like territory, where you effectively wouldn't own the music (and I suspect the license agreement for these cloud services might read as much).
True, we're talking about streaming versus download, cloud vs. local, so it's not entirely unreasonable to try to limit the service in ways to make sure that everybody at a potential all-you-can-eat buffet has their own plate. But the coming shift could be transformative, if streaming or cloud services become the primary way people consume music, versus downloading, which seems to partially be what Apple, Amazon and Google—not to mention the raggedy records labels—are betting on, or at least preparing for.
When you don't actually own something, how much can you complain about it not working right? [TechCrunch]
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