Bill Gates On The Future Of DRM

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Microsoft convened a small group of bloggers today at their Redmond headquarters to discuss the upcoming Mix Conference in Las Vegas. Highlights of the day included:

  • The receipt of a Zune as a gift (the third I’ve received from Microsoft – I now have all three colors)
  • Seeing the look on Gates’ face when he walked into the room and every single one of us had a Mac open on the desk in front of us – Niall Kennedy had also set up a makeshift wifi network using an Airport
  • An hour-long anything goes Q&A session with Gates

One of the questions that I asked was his opinion on the long term viability of DRM. I don’t hide the fact that I think DRM isn’t workable, and actively support DRM-free music alternatives such as eMusic and Amie Street. The rise of illegal or quasi-legal options like AllofMP3 and BitTorrent ensure that users have plenty of options when it comes to DRM-free digital music.

Gates didn’t get into what could replace DRM, but he did give some reasonably candid insights suggesting that he thinks DRM is as lame as the rest of us.

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

His short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”

He ended by saying “DRM is not where it should be, but you won’t get me to say that there should be usage models and different payment models for usage. At the end of the day, incentive systems do make a difference, but we don’t have it right with incentives or interoperability.”

These quotes are rough – I was typing fast but it was not an exact transcript. Still, it is interesting insight from a man who is in a position to shape the future of digital music models.

There’s lots of good coverage from other bloggers attending as well. See Steve Rubel, Molly Holzschlag, Ryan Stewart, Niall Kennedy and Liz Gannes. Todd Bishop also has a nice roundup.

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