The History of Music Management
If you look at the history of the music industry, you will notice a familiar cycle of events playing out. A technological breakthrough comes along that makes sharing of recorded music between fans easier, and the music industry jumps up and down, shouts about the death of music, and attempts to shut down or control that technology by any means possible. Right back to the old "home taping is killing music" days (which ended up netting the major labels a penny off of the price of every blank cassette sold) to today, with music downloads and P2P file sharing networks, the music business has always had a love/hate relationship with new technology.
It is, of course, this brave new digital music world that is currently keeping the industry awake at night. The internet has opened up a tremendous number of opportunities for sharing music, from file sharing networks to CD-Rs, and in the face of dwindling music sales, the record labels naturally want to find a way to turn these new music markets into revenue streams and control the distribution of the music catalogs. The answer they came up with? Digital Rights Management - DRM.
What is DRM?
DRM is software included on a CD or tied to a music file that controls the way you can use the file. It may prevent music from being copied, it may prevent you from listening to a particular music file on more than one computer or playback device, it may dictate the kind of playback device you need to use to listen to your track, or it may do some combination of these things. The basic idea behind DRM in any application is that you pay a price for a CD or a song, and the record label gets to determine how much usage of that song the price you paid gets you. For instance, buying a CD may entitle you to listen to it over and over again, but with DRM software installed, the record label gets to say that the price you paid does not entitle you to copy that CD for your friends by blocking those songs from being copied. DRM is what makes the songs downloaded from iTunes only play on iPods (unless you pay for the special DRM free version) and it is what blocks you from sharing a song more than three times on paid music downloading services.