I’ve written about digital right management before. My latest encounter with these technologies came this weekend and I’m reminded that the “rights” mentioned are not the rights of the consumer.
A couple of weeks ago, I realized my car is equipped with a jack that allows me to plug in an MP3 player to play music through my stereo. Yes, my car is more than three years old but my excuse for only having just found this jack is that it is located in the center console, beneath the parking break. Who would have looked in such an unlikely spot for an MP3 player jack? In any case, once I found it, I thought that I should buy a cable that would allow my cheapo, no-name MP3 player to be connected. Liz and I found those cables this weekend in Concord at Pitchfork Records for $5.
I decided that I would augment my newly useful MP3 player with some new music. Rather than purchase entire CDs which I would then rip and put on the player, I went in search of a legal, online source for music. I checked out a few options and thought that I would include iTunes music store in my research. So I downloaded the iTunes player and started to browse the music. They have a great selection and you can listen to a sample of each song before you purchase it. That’s a nice feature. Finally, I made my selection, entered my credit card information and completed the purchase.
Then I tried to download the song to my non-iPod MP3 player. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t want me to be able to play my newly, legally purchased song on a non-Apple device. And so it is saved on my computer in a proprietary format that cannot be played on any device that is not some version of an iPod. So I have now purchased a song that I can listen to on my computer but not on my MP3 player. Unless, of course, I buy an iPod.
This kind of digital rights management is all about the rights of the company that sold me this song. I have no rights in this situation. Through some research, I’ve learned that I can save the song to a CD in the proprietary format, change some settings in my iTunes player so that all ripped songs are ripped as MP3 files, and then rip the song from the CD. If I do that, I will apparently have an MP3 version of this song that I have purchased legally. I haven’t tried this method yet. If I only have a couple of songs that I need to go through this process with, it is certainly manageable. But it’s still a pain.
I understand that companies want and need to protect their digital rights. This particular practice, however, strikes me as monopolistic and against the underlying ideas of capitalism, that the market should prevail. Why isn’t anyone suing Apple for these anti-capitalist practices?
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.