Cory Doctorow and Chris Anderson are having an exchange of opinions at their respective blogs about DRM, Cory essentially saying that DRM is unacceptable, and Chris taking the “middle ground” position saying that it’s okay.
One of Cory’s points is that the argument about keeping honest users honest is as absurd as saying you’re keeping tall users tall. That honesty is a an integral attribute, and either you have it or you don’t.
But I’ve also just finished reading The Tipping Point, and on page 160 Gladwell talks about the “Fundamental Attribution Errorthat humans tend to think of other humans as either honest or not honest. But in actual experiments, it turns out that honesty, as well as many other character traits, depends a lot on the circumstances. People, for example, are much less likely to help another person in need, if they’re told “You’re late” immediately before. In other words, keeping honest users honest makes more sense than Cory would lead you to believe.
I think that circumstances is a major factor in selling music online as well, although perhaps not the way Chris suggests. I have personally downloaded music without paying for it, especially when it wasn’t available to be bought anywhere (such as the fantastic “Why me God” by Durwood Douche, first heard on Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code). I have also purchased more music on iTunes since it became available to me, than I bought CD music before iTunes. In other words, I would I would personally be kept more honest if there was a path for me to get the music in an honest way. But all too often there isn’t.
I’m actually torn on how to deal with the current DRM/online music situation. Like both Cory and Chris, I wish things were different, that we didn’t have the restrictions that we do today. I have run into the 5-computer limit that Apple enforces (2 desktops, 4 laptops at work and home), and ever time you get a new laptop and sell off your old one, you have to remember to deauthorize it before wiping it, otherwise it will permanently use up one of those 5 slots. That happened to me, too. (Apple was kind enough to reset my count, not sure about the details.)
On ther other hand, iTunes is a major improvement over what was there before, which was essentially nothing. I can actually legally buy and immediately listen to music I want, insofar as it’s available, without breaking any laws. I love that.
So I find myself on the one hand wanting to support the iTunes Music Store project with my money, signaling that “we” are willing to pay for music online, and on the other hand wanting to signal that “we” won’t put up with the DRM that rights holders (which of course includes Steve Jobs) try to shovel down our throats.
What I end up doing, most of the time, is buying a song on iTunes, then downloading it on P2P, just so I can simultaneously feel good about supporting music online, and be unencumbered by DRM. Feels a bit awkward, though, doesn’t it?
Cory, what’s your practical advice to us mere mortals? What should we do to get our music?