BuyMusic.com mixes up DRM for music downloads


— 5:53 AM on July 23, 2003

Buy.com has launched its BuyMusic service that makes 300,000 songs available for download for as little as $0.79 per song and $7.95 per album. Of course, the downloadable tracks come with all sorts of digital rights management (DRM) stuff embedded that can limit transfers to portable players, burning to CD, and even playback on other computers. What's especially interesting about BuyMusic is the fact that each track or album can have different DRM restrictions.

What BuyMusic's DRM may lack in consistency it gains in flexibility, at least as far as artists and labels are concerned. Instead of having to conform to a single DRM policy, content creators have the freedom to set some of their own rules. For example, Johnny Cash's The Man Comes Around can be downloaded to a single computer and burned to CD or transferred to a portable player an unlimited number of times. Radiohead's Ok Computer can also only be downloaded to a single computer, but users are limited to three portable audio player transfers and three CD burns. Tori Amos' Strange Little Girls can be downloaded to up to three computers, transferred to an unlimited number of players, and burned to three CDs.

These different DRM restrictions shouldn't be too complex for mainstream users to wrap their hands around, and I'm all for them, as long as the additional freedom encourages more labels and artists to participate in download services like BuyMusic.com.

Unfortunately, the BuyMusic service isn't without a few annoying snags. For starters, downloaded tracks require Windows Media Player 9 for playback. Downloads are also tied to a single computer, and a secondary license is required for playback on extra machines. Burning tracks to CD solves both of those problems, but since downloads are only 128kbps WMA files, you're not really burning CD-quality tracks in the first place. At the moment, BuyMusic.com is also only for U.S. residents.

BuyMusic.com is far from a perfect digital music service, but it's good to see more competitors getting in on the action. It's unlikely digital downloads will ever be as cheap as some might want, but a diverse array of download services should give those willing to pay for music plenty of choices.

 
   
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