What is the role of content protection in the music industry?

When the music industry first transitioned to digital publishing with the CD, content protection was not used as part of the format. Even today, much of the music published remains without content protection. Since the introduction of the CD, technology has made the creation of musical recordings, including recording, mixing and mastering, much less expensive. That same technology has made the distribution and storage of music so inexpensive that consumers are now storing huge collections of music in their homes and transmitting it at will to friends and strangers, what is euphemistically called “sharing”. As a result, only a small portion of the music contained in an average consumer’s library has actually been paid for by that consumer. This has caused the music industry to think about how they must evolve the business. Whatever the details, the resulting business has to be attractive to consumers, it must be deemed fair, the music community has to view it collectively as “cool”, something you just have to have and, moreover, it has to generate sufficient revenue.

There are ways to provide new experiences that go way beyond the 99 cents per song business model, and experiments are being tried on a regular basis. One of the more straight-forward of these is musical subscription. Musical subscription allows consumers to listen to anything contained in an enormous library, even download it, stream it around the home or copy it to a portable music player to take on the road, all for a monthly fee. This has shown to be popular with those who’ve tried it, adding convenience, selection and choice. It’s even considered cool by some, although awareness of music subscription options is low, and adoption regrettably slow. Nonetheless, subscribers to music services are proving to be loyal, showing that this is something they’re willing to pay for.

At the bottom of subscription is DRM. DRM protects the content and renders it playable for as long as the owner pays for the subscription service. It does not get in the way of consumers at all. But if the subscription fee is not paid, through a mechanism that is specific to each DRM system that supports it, the content can be made unplayable. Kind of cool.

Given what a great deal musical subscriptions are, they could take hold in a big way, and supporting it, then as now, DRM is increasingly deployed in this relatively new role of protecting music.