Previewing Lessons Learned From FairUse4WM

On the one hand, I’ve said that most users won’t care about FairUse4WM
because they already could easily get unencrypted
copies. On the other hand, Janus DRM has discouraged music fans from subscribing and hurt online music businesses. 
In what sense can both these statements be true?  In short, music fans
would flock to a true all-you-can-eat mp3 subscription service, but, don’t be surprised if FairUse4WM has little impact on user adoption of subscription services.

Many users who currently rely on P2P
would put down money for a slick Rhapsody-like service that didn’t
restrict their uses, just like many online music users already flit
between iTunes and P2P depending on which happens to be more convenient
at a given moment.  And, in the long run, an all-you-can-eat mp3
service may be where we’re headed.

But in the short run, I don’t
think that’s how things will play out.  Most music fans still don’t
want anything that smells like a subscription “rental” service, and,
unless FairUse4WM gets integrated into Rhapsody in some form, it
doesn’t make the experience seamless enough. The iTunes Music Store has
dominated the market not just because of the price point, but because
it and the iPod work with no fuss.  In contrast,
Rhapsody-to-FairUse4WM-to-iPod still requires some energy, and, more to
the point, Rhapsody+P2P downloading will for many people be as or more
convenient than Rhapsody+FairUse4WM.  FairUse4WM may make some current
Rhapsody customers happy, but it won’t attract too many new ones. 

Furthermore,
remember that this hack could be cut off, potentially by forced
upgrades or by the roll-out of new subscription services and devices
down the road.  That could prompt users to tune out the licensed
services even more, but it will give certain industry folks the sense
that this was a victory for DRM. After all, if the DRM can’t be broken
once and then run everywhere forever, it “works,” right?

Of course not — as I said, most users who want
to get around the DRM already can easily do so through
non-circumvention means, and, as Engadget argued, the people who would
download the whole catalog and then cancel the subscription aren’t
going to be Rhapsody customers anyway. The DRM might get a few extra
pennies out of a few people, but that’s far less than the money
Rhapsody would attract with mp3s, and it certainly ain’t enough to
build an online music service business around.  The service providers like Yahoo already understand this, but the record labels don’t or have other interests in mind, and middlemen like Microsoft are indifferent.

So
my worry — one that in part motivated my initial analysis — is that the
music industry and others will take all the wrong lessons away from this, and none
of the right ones.  Stay tuned, and hope for the best. As both an Activist and a Rhapsody user, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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