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Spotify – liberation or DRM-hell?

September 22, 2009

Spotify, seen by many as the music service Napster should’ve been and thus would have saved us from the last 10 years of evil piracy, has a darker side to it as well. To understand, let’s do some history:

First, one of the suggestions from the media industry on how to “solve the piracy problem” (that still hasn’t been shown to exist, worth noting) has been to create a “broadband tax“. Everyone should pay for some imagined or real media usage to the existing rights holding companies.

I wrote about this in a column several years ago (2003, not linkable), where I referred to it as being “the most brilliant business idea I’ve ever known”. Imagine enacting laws requiring everyone to send money to a private entity that doesn’t do any actual work – when you’re the entity! (Sadly this is the case in several countries already, like Canada and Sweden, with a copy-tax on writeable media)

Naturally, file sharers and non-file sharers (in this blog post, let’s pretend that file sharing actually means distributing copyrighted works without proper support by law) have been in uproar with this silly idea. To start with, such a license scheme wouldn’t be able to know whom consumed what, and thus wouldn’t be able to distribute the eventual income fairly. It would also help to keep an outdated power structure in place (media companies of old actually did advertising, printing of media on physical substrates and costly distribution – including deals with storefronts with regards to shelf space) when it’s no longer needed (see; the Internet).

Secondly, that same industry fell in love with DRM – Digital Rights Management. Ignoring such things as the intention of law (in some countries, not-law), suddenly media wasn’t something you bought and could re-use or sell yourself (as it had always been), you instead consumed a license that could expire without warning and the things you had bought became worthless. Now, to be fair, thanks to the evil pirates DRM on audio died somewhere around 2007 and I’m projecting the end of DRM on video to begin already in 2009. After all, the world hasn’t ended and even some media company executives [children] might want to create their own ringtone from a piece of music they bought every once in a while. It might also help that there indeed were a few DRM services that closed up shop and everyone could see (and some experience) the very real threat of having paid for something that in the end amounted to nothing.

… so, let’s get back to Spotify.

1) It’s a flat tax (ad-supported or with real money) upon all its users, no matter what they listen to or how much. It’s not even a freemium-model if you want it available on your mobile.

2) You pay the equivalent of twelve full albums a year (how many of you have purchased that amount lately?) and end up owning nothing. When Spotify disappears, so will all the music.

Are you surprised that Spotify is owned by the media industry, who claim to make more profit out of it than actually selling you the (DRM-free) music available at digital music stores (while at least one actual musician – you know, the ones who create stuff – argues he gets basically nothing)?

I’m not. With minor exceptions, Spotify is exactly what they’ve been trying to accomplish over the last few years.

The only surprise is that we seem to love it.

[disclaimer: this blog post was written under the influence of music streamed through Spotify Premium]

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2009 7:38

    I am actually not so worried about the fact that if/when Spotify goes away so does my playlists. My way of consuming music has changed dramatically and I do not really care that I do not own it – as in having the particular file stored on my NAS. I consume so much more music and with much more variety.

    The little thing that Spotify has solved so neatly is the mobility aspect that iTunes provided. It will not take long before the Spotify mobile branch will expand to include ring-tones and the one favorite mobile platform (Android) will have an enabler in place for supporting Spotify hosted ring-tones, alarm sounds, you name it.

    Interestingly – I am just curious as to who will then provide the next audio streaming service. How do we then ensure interoperability (yes, I’m a standards guy of sorts) between the different audio clouds.

  2. Andreas permalink
    October 1, 2009 23:20

    I’m not sure what you are comparing Spotify to? I pay for 12 albums a year and get to listen to how many albums I want, whenever I want, in a great player for my computer or phone, in a quality that’s more than “ok”. For a music consumer like me (probably closing in on 600 albums a year) this is a bargain. Wherever I am, I always have my playlists and my music available, online or offline, and at the cost of virtually no hard drive space at all.

    Maybe you didn’t buy 12 albums a year before Spotify, but then you either didn’t listen to music at all, or you listened to it illegally. You can’t compare Spotify to illegal alternatives.

    As a commercial service, Spotify is “good enough”. And that’s a first and that’s why we love it.

    • October 2, 2009 19:40


      Thanks for your comment, I wasn’t aware that my own position was unclear. I’ll elaborate:

      I’m comparing with simply buying music for digital download from services like iTunes and Amazon. DRM-free, making it possible for me to listen to the music on whichever device I happen to use at the moment (for example, streaming to a Playstation 3 in another room). I also then have the possibility to create my own ringtones from the music, control whichever music player I use through remote controls and stream the music to several rooms at once (something iTunes does a lot better than Airfoil, which is the alternative I have with Spotify. Other solutions exist, but they cannot work with Spotify since there’s no API).

      This is what I compare Spotify with, which is only available on few devices (computer plus select mobile platforms – and even then it requires network access to log in which users travelling abroad likely won’t appreciate the roaming charges for) and doesn’t allow any third party device control.

      I understand, however, that someone who manages to listen to two new full albums a day have other preferences ;) Myself I’m more of the one-new-album-a-month kind of person. Maybe that’s a minority view.

      In the end, I cannot replace my earlier music consumtion with Spotify (much of the music I have is simply not available there). What has happened is that I have added another service, DRM-infested, for 99 SEK a month. The blog post was about that being eerily similar to some very non-popular views having been voiced before by the media industry and which resulted in public outcry.

      As a matter of fact, the proposed “broadband tax” for media piracy would have resulted in legalized filesharing – and Spotify would easily have been outcompeted by a modern version of Napster or Audio Galaxy ;)

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