DRM And Copyright Legalities And Ethics

The DRM issue is one that is both frustrating and confusing.  James Frankel has published a number of his thoughts about this subject on his website: Music Technology in Education.  In his latest article: Copyright or Copywrong III he brings up many good points and considerations about using DRM in the classroom and states that using a cracked DRM file in class, even if  you own it, is illegal.

There is little room for doubting the truth of his statement in the legal sense, but the matter has again disturbed me as to the ethical nature of the problem.  Below is a comment I made on his page.  In an effort to bring this to a meaningful discussion, I am posting it here.  What are your thoughts about using DRM encoded files? What do you do when this happens to you? What are your frustrations with DRM and copyright?


Original comment below:


I agree with you that that act of “cracking” a DRM encoded file is illegal but whether or not it is unethical is another problem…

DRM, at the moment, seems to be a necessary evil but I have to side with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on this issue. If I legally have purchased the rights to enjoy an artist’s song, then it only seems fair that I should be able to play it back on whatever type of media players that are in my possession.

The restrictions of DRM encoded media files add a frustrating layer to the user’s (read “consumer” here) original purchase intent- that of freely enjoying the music which he/she has legally purchased.

I think that many of us should consider the sound advice that Bill Gates has recently offered in the public arena regarding this very issue. His short-term advice: “People should just buy a [the] CD and rip it. You are legal then.” This completely circumvents the DRM issue and puts you back in not only “ethical right”, but also the “legal right”.

Personally, unless I’m forced to buy DRM encoded music files in the future, I will always purchase the CD. I certainly don’t want to not afford the hard working musicians their proper due, but the hassle that is being created and has been created with the current way DRM schemes are implemented border on customer harassment and may be hurting the musicians in the long term.

For what it’s worth,

                   ~Joe Pisano

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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Category : Music Advocacy
  • Joe,

    You bring up some excellent point about the ethical side of DRM. Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was typing about the legality of converting Protected AAC files to MP3s for use in the classroom. I have a huge problem with someone telling me what I can and cannot do with legally obtained music. While I do believe that DRM was implemented to help ease the fears of Record Company execs about their music being sold in the digital domain, I believe that what I am talking about in my post should be Fair Use. Copyright Law, in it’s current form, protects only the copyright holders – usually one of the four mega-conglomerates that own pretty much everything. It’s no longer a protection for the artist in my opinion. As music teachers almost all of our actions that involve breaking copyright laws should fall under Fair Use (except for pirating music of course). I am a huge fan of Lawrence Lessig and his work with the Creative Commons. I urge everyone to check out his site and the work he is doing to help ensure that future generations will be allowed to use materials as inspiration for new works.
    You are right – DRM has lots of issues concerning ethics and ownership. I think that it is important that every teacher know how DRM, Fair Use, and Copyright Law effects almost everything they do in their classrooms.

    Thanks so much for your comments,

  • Found another related article at the My Music Tech Site:


  • thetweller


    Both articles (James and yourself) bring up some great points. In my eighth grade general music class we spend several class periods discussing the birth of Napster and Pandora’s box that followed. Like you, I do not wish to begrudge an artist their hard earned money, but at some point it has to stop. As I look at my own my own students and their shameless abuse of Limewire and the like it is a little disheartening. They freely copy each others ideas, thoughts, and formulas to complete their homework with no feelings of guilt or shame. It is really no surprise in our microwave society that wants everything now, cheap, and still of good quality that they will go to any length to acquire the music they want.

    Should I ever get some of my band music published, I don’t think my opinion and view of photocopying will change. Many directors like myself are fortunate to work with “Fair Use” to make sure every student in our ensembles has music. Like automobiles, it is a necessary evil we cannot avoid.

    Still thinking about all of it and the money the record companies are raking in, I have a simple solution: Go back to Vinyl and let the good times roll.

    Excellent article and thank you for sharing.

    Travis Weller

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