Zune and DRM, 3 days later

I hate DRM. It’s one of the reasons I hate the whole iTunes + iPod + FairPlay trinity, that any music you purchase from iTunes can only be legally played back on an iPod. Yes, you can burn that music to disc and then rip it back but at the loss of some quality, time and materials.

As much as I hate DRM I’ve been kicking around this whole concept that any music you share between Zunes will be limited to 3 days or 3 playbacks, which ever comes first, and I have to admit that it makes sense. Here’s my reasoning:

- The ability to share music over WiFi is hot and while it would just be a gimmick in a smaller company’s player Microsoft has deep enough pockets and the long tail endurance to make this a reality (the reality being getting enough units sold that you may actually bump into someone else with a Zune). They want this feature to work, they want people to love it like it’s the new digital crack and so if they have limited it to 3 days/plays they probably have a very good reason.

- Microsoft has realized that against all odds people actually are willing to lock their souls into a software/hardware pairing, a la iPod/iTunes. Willing? Nah, people flock to it, love it, hoist it high on their shoulders and parade it around with the banner of “Easy of Use” flapping in the wind.

- In an attempt to create an iTunesesque creature they need content and since that content will be locked to the Zune their partners must be assured that any content they provide via Zune Marketplace is secure, which means the ability to willy-nilly share music unrestricted will block any type of major labels from sharing their catalog.

- This means that while Microsoft desperately wants to pimp their WiFi sharing concept they have to sooth their music partners, you know, with something like a 3 day, 3 listen lock-down. No exceptions allowed because whatever flag you’d need to flip to tell a song that it can play beyond that limit would be discovered and exploited within 48 hours (and that’s if the hackers were drunk).

- I’d say that 95%, maybe even higher, of the music that people will want to share is commercial music, meaning if you’re listening to it you should have purchased it. In that case while DRM is annoying it’s serving it’s purpose.

All of that being said Zune’s 3 day DRM works. There are of course edge cases, like when you’re a band and you want everyone to have a copy of your latest track distributed via a Creative Common’s license. In that case I still believe you’re better off than if you just had an iPod, without any sharing at all. Some indie-inked-hottie share a copy of her art noise band’s latest “song”? You love it and you zipped through your 3 listens in 20 minutes and really want to hear it again but you can barely remember what website she said you could download it from. Ahh, look, the site’s URL is right there in the metadata for the song so you can zip over there and post your undying love for her as you download each track.

Some people seem to be thinking of the Zune sharing concept as an isolated form of communication yet it’s really another layer to a bigger conversation. Sure, it might be a little annoying that the “free” song is now locked but if you really liked it that much you’ll be wanting to hit up the artist’s webpage anyway to check out show dates, other tracks, media content, t-shirts, stickers, etc.

I’m not saying I love it, just that as far as striking a balance I’m actually pretty impressed and I hope it catches on, especially in the indie music scene.