Imagine There's No DRM... I Wonder if You Can

Even rock stars rejoice when a major record company takes the locks off digital music

7 min read

Digital rights management, the group of technologies that control copying and use of digital media downloads and disks, has infuriated consumers since its inception in the mid-1990s. Consumer advocacy groups rallied against it, arguing that locking digital content prevented not only illegal uses but legal ones as well. But the record and movie industries lobbied hard for enforcement of these locks, and in 1998 won the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which made simply breaking one of these locks illegal, even if no copyright violation followed. The industries have taken the position that protection of artists' intellectual property is vital to their creative efforts.

Until last February, the tides continued to move in favor of expanded DRM, but then, with his trademark panache, Apple's cofounder and CEO, Steve Jobs, proposed that we simply dispense with DRM altogether. In an essay published on the Apple Web site, ”Thoughts on Music,” Jobs said that Apple would embrace ”in a heartbeat” DRM-free music, if only the music companies would allow it. He stated that DRM systems ”haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy,” and suggested that those unhappy with DRM stop complaining to Apple and ”redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.”

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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