Qtrax DRM, Michael Jackson and The Ebola Virus.
In 1983, Michael Jackson had a helluva year. He spent 15 weeks atop the charts with 3 #1 hits. Other songs making it to the top of the charts that year were “Come on Eileen” by the Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police and “Maniac” by Michael Sembello (I hope you’re picturing Chris Farley in Tommy Boy every time you hear this song like I do). Man, those were the days. I can practically smell the hairspray. The era was equal parts mega-stars, one-hit wonders and MTV-fueled video bands. To download nearly all of these classic hits, just go to Qtrax and search by keyword “80s”. You’ll be knee deep in these hits, Pat Benetar and Lionel Richie before you know it.
The same year, but with much less hype, The Replacements released Hootenanny, Hüsker Dü was recording Zen Arcade, and The Clash were finishing up Combat Rock. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That God for that.
What’s this got to do with anything besides the usual “available music on Qtrax” and some glorious self-promotion. Well, I’ll tell you. According to my extensive, web-based research, the same year (1983) a Japanese software engineer, Ryoichi Mori developed Software Service System (SSS) which is one of the earliest implementations of DRM (Digital Rights Management). Similar to the DRM today, SSS specialized hardware that controlled decryption and also enabled payments to be sent to the copyright holder. DRM is one of the hot-button issues in digital music. In a future world, all music may be stripped of DRM, but for now, it’s here and part of pretty much every music fans digital experience–like it or not. For most music sites, DRM encrypted music was there to limit the redistribution of copyright protected music. This is why you had such a difficult time uploading music from CDs from certain labels or sending that cool tune to a friend of yours that you just downloaded from iTunes. However, from a copyright protection issue, many “for pay” download services are removing DRM. This has created a buzz around the acronym and subsequesnt media hysteria has turned DRM into the digital equivalent of the Ebola virus.
So, if the future of music is free and legal, why do Qtrax songs come loaded with DRM? If you’re giving the music away, what’s the big deal? It’s pretty simple, really. We’re counting plays. That’s it. We’re not culling information (Facebook). We’re not infecting your computer with spyware (Limewire). And we’re certainly not giving you the Ebola virus (bat-bitten African monkies and mice). Naturally, we would love to have all of our music on Qtrax be DRM-free and able to be played on anyone’s portable device (that even includes you, Mr. iPod). In fact, we’re working hard with everyone to develop innovative software and systems to see that this becomes a reality in the near future. However, we pay the artists and publishers based on the amount of plays each song receives. Our DRM is used to do one thing only, count plays. Our agreements with all the major labels and artists gives us rights to distribute their music freely, provided we share in the advertising revenues. We base these payments based on exactly which music is being downloaded and played via Qtrax. It’s a true reflection of the popularity of each song and the most fair way to compensate the artists and publishers of the music. This is why we need to count plays. We encourage users to download as much music as they want and tell their friends to do the same. Play it as much as you like on your computer, for now. Soon, we’ll have the portability aspect nailed (you will hear something on this topic very soon) and all you’ll need to do is synch up your device once a month so we can, you guessed it, count plays. It’s quick and easy. The beauty is you get to keep the music. Just try and avoid getting bitten by a bat or crazed monkey in the Ebola River valley and you should be OK.