February 2, 2006

More DRM - The Audio Flag tries to get a foot in the door.

Just when the Broadcast Flag returns from the dead for the bazillionth time, resurrected by industry lobbying money, a new variant pops in - the 'Audio Flag,' intended to prevent timeshifting of digital radio content. Engadget's 'The Clicker' weighs in, asking if perhaps the Audio Flag might have a couple things going for it. I felt compelled to email a reply. Contents of that email after the jump.

While I take your point re: the Audio Flag and song play, I'd like to offer some in return that I've no doubt you've heard but which I feel compelled to support nonetheless.

First, the 'library from radio' option has been available since the cheap availability of boom boxes with built-in cassette recorders which recorded directly from the audio input. I myself have around forty cassettes of music recorded directly from radio stations in the 1980s, which saw an *awful* lot of use. The notion that this is a new problem which poses *new* challenges is a bit stretched.

Second, there was a response then which is still valid - the concept of releasing only certain songs for radio play. 'Singles' were released to sell *albums*. This fell into the dust when MTV and radiocassettes and CDs became popular - why? probably (IMHO) because the random-access nature of CDs and the hevay-single-promotion of MTV meant that the album as a form became less important. Hence the large number of albums containing the 'golden two singles' and lots of crappy tunes. But why should I accept restrictions on my content in order to allow artists/producers to shove those other 8-10 crappy tracks onto me?

Third, the option is always available to record companies to offer licenses for digital airplay at restricted bitrates. What's wrong with that? It's a choice that *they* make, and that the consumers (radio stations, and indirectly, listeners) can then choose to validate or not. Market at work. Radio was always of relatively reduced quality compared to purchasing the music anyway, which is why I have CDs of most of those songs recorded on that stack of cassettes.

Fourth, the problem is that we're not talking about making the audio flag *available*. We're talking about making it *mandatory*, on the equipment side at least. This is all well and good if you absolutely trust those on the other end of your content flow to *not* put the flag on things that you think it shouldn't apply to, but I would submit that that's an intolerably naive point of view. Look at Tivo: in the first few weeks their own 'unsaveable' flag was available, they managed to apply it *by mistake* to a whole raft of content, which meant their users had no option and no recourse when that content vanished.

J.B. Zimmerman

Posted by jbz at February 2, 2006 8:37 PM | TrackBack

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