September 19, 2006 3:27 PM PDT

Chuck D lays down the law on DRM

Digital rights management has its benefits, but should not overly restrict users, according to musician and mobile entrepreneur Chuck D.

The rapper, who was a founding member of hip-hop group Public Enemy and now runs a content service, told delegates at the Mobile Content World conference in London that he had always looked at technology as "something you can apply to a better world if you stay on top of it and don't let it stay on top of you."

"[Napster founder] Shawn Fanning revolutionized the way we get music--he doesn't get the respect he deserves, even today," Chuck D said on Tuesday.

He said he does "believe in some sort of DRM" but pointed out that MP3 was the most popular compression format because it does not limit how the customer can use the file once bought.

"You've got artists who are just starting out who are understanding that DRM is a way of life," Chuck D said, adding that musicians "understand it doesn't have to be the Pirates of Penzance as it was," a reference to the free-for-all early days of Napster and similar P2P engines.

The issue of DRM has become increasingly contentious with the growth of new media distribution services. Some see it as a way to protect the intellectual property of content creators, while others see it as unnecessary infringement by distributors on the rights of the consumer. Speaking to ZDNet UK after his presentation, Chuck D the current situation with DRM isn't working.

"It has to get to a point where it works for everyone--sometimes people can't share or burn their own CD," he said. He suggested that a solution may lie in a universal media format but said that development was "impossible right now."

Asked for his opinion on FairUse4WM, the anti-DRM Windows Media crack that recently caused the suspension of Sky's online movie service, Chuck D said he was "always going to tip [his] hat to the rebels".

He also expressed skepticism about the purchase this year of MySpace by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, indicating that it may eventually make the portal less effective in promoting new artists.

"The problem with corporations is they come into any business with a gold-rush mentality of making a killing and there's a difference between making a killing and making a living," he said, warning that "people in the back of their minds think the free reign [of sites such as MySpace and YouTube] is going to be taken away and collapse because it's too good to be true".

Chuck D Mobile was launched earlier this year to offer a range of ring tones, videos and other hip-hop-related content for mobile phones. According to the rapper, he had "gotten wary of delivering my content to middlemen" and saw mobile technology as the most effective way to "expand an art form and genre" in urban areas around the world.

The venture is not Chuck D's first into digital distribution--his Slamjamz online record label was launched in 1996 and continues to release albums, while his web portal offers free MP3 downloads.

A global Anti-DRM Day has been scheduled for Oct. 3 by, a subset of the Free Software Foundation.

David Meyer reported from ZDNet UK in London.

See more CNET content tagged:
digital-rights management, anti-DRM, Napster Inc., portal, MySpace


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face value gangstars... cap u mutha f-
I have seen some great DRM tech go down the toilet.. or should I say "out of the cart and back on the shelf" in recent years... they look like golden parachutes to me.. just another executive scam... but still, DRM has its place.. when it empowers the people! empower the people and everybody wins! duh!!

california and the hype patrol.. sure, one can only hype counterculture so far.. but in the end.. the hype come tumbling down.. peter principle totally rocks.. now they want to harass the caged birds.. and force them on stage.. all the artists "communicate" about it.. why societys resources go to harassers boggles my mind.. and now all these virus-like tech companies put tainted goods on the p2p net... and the activation sh- going on..

take adobe for example.. photoshop.. the kids cant afford it.. yah like the ones who spun the web, and thus made adobe rich beyond belief.. and the activation sh- gets in the way.. and reader.. talk about spyware.. so the photoshop market will dither away as the designers move on.. gimp will take over..

its gonna be a wellfare nation... and totally undeserving people who control the resources..

proud of yourselves? I sure hope so...
Posted by freq (121 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ugh, here we go again...
Personally, I don't really care what music "artists" do to protect their music. If anyone has a problem with it, DON'T BUY THE MUSIC. No? Well, just another example of people in my generation not knowing how to do without.

As for Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, there is a reason for activation. It's called Piracy. As a designer, I believe they're reasonably priced. This is because Adobe's target audience are not former computer science majors who like to play with Photoshop, it's advertising agencies who can plunk down $1000 dollars, when a typical project is 5-10k+

It's highly doubtful that any true designers will ever switch to GIMP. Photoshop is the standard, it's what's taught at Universities, and quite frankly, most designers don't know anything about, or even care about the open source movement...

...besides, photoshop is bundled in CS2 with two other industry-standard products...Illustrator and InDesign...
Posted by bleah311 (5 comments )
Link Flag
yo, like uh dude... literacy... like ah need some
I can almost follow what you're saying... nope guess not.
What I did gather is that kids who don't pay for software made the web (I thought Al Gore did?) and Adobe is going to die because said kids can't afford Photoshop.
None of those kids made Adobe rich. Most of those kids never gave Adobe a dime. So Adobe developed Photoshop Elements for them. What's your point? Adobe was huge before the web was big. If Gimp is so good, why do you care if you can't bootleg Photoshop? You seem to be saying if the common populace can't get free software society will collapse. That's gimped.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
From a Musician and DRM manufacturer
Chuck D is correct when he states that DRM is "something you can apply to a better world if you stay on top of it and don't let it stay on top of you." DRM technology can be a benefit musicians, and help protect the freedoms of the average man.

I am a musician as well as a product manager at a company that develops DRM software for email (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>). First off, I feel that the DRM discussion is too broad, as most people are familiar with DRM as it applies to media. There is also another popular application of DRM which helps businesses to protect thier digital assets (i.e. contracts, price lists, executive emails, etc.) from unwanted distribution.

Being a musician myself, I am in regular contact with owners of small record companies, in which rampant, unlicensed distribution of the label's music has a major effect on its business workdwide. In fact, my friend who owns a small record company here in Seattle, was recently in Senegal, where he found bootlegged copies of albums his label has released on sale in the local markets. What's funny is that he may in a good year sell only 200,000 albums total. It would be nice if small record companies and srtists could have a choice of DRM controls that are enforced on their music regardless of to what device they are downloaded to and played upon.

Media needs to be standardized so that music purchase on ITunes can be played on other players and vice versa. The rules fair use of copywrited works needs to be addressed and agreed upon by all players, major and minor, in the market. If feel the only way this can happen is to put the artists in direct control of thier DRM choices. The musicians and publishers themselves should have the choice of what (if any) DRM controls may be applied to thier music. The rights policies should ride inside the music using steganography, and these DRM commands should be added during or immediately following the mastering process. Regardless of what music player accesses the music these controls should be read and enforced. Furthermore, an independent body should be established to decide upon the stadardization of DRM in media content. The organization should have votes that are equally distributed between major and minor media publishers. Moreover, this organization would be able to provide the legal muslce to persecute those who bootleg copywrited works on behlaf of small record and film companies.

This idea of giving DRM contol to the content creator also applies to the general populace with regards to email. Nearly all of us have emailed something at one time or another that we would not want forwarded to anyone else. Whether a contract, business idea, image, artistic work, whatever, we the people should have the right place to control the extent to which our own data is distributed. DRM tools can provide people with these tools. Since encryption is at the heart of all DRM technologies, if and when the masses start protecting thier emails using DRM, it helps to assert ones first ammendment rights, by providing real physical limits on what communication the government can access. Moreover, I beleive the use of DRM protected will establish greater trust between people who primarily communicate on-line and will lead to greater productivity.

Just about any technology can be used as a weapon or a tool, it is important that we should develop DRM tools that benefit the general populace and not just large companies.
Posted by NSWorldwide (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lack of interoperability not a side-effect.
This was not good marketing for your company, at least to technical people who will recognize all the flaws in what you have said.

You say it would be nice if all "DRM" were interoperable, trying to mask the fact that the lack of interoperability is not a "side effect" of TPMs being used to attempt to protect copyright -- it is the underlying technique.

Content can't make decisions, contains no logic, so cannot "decide" when it is OK to copy or not. Only devices can make decisions, based on the rules it is given in software.

What copyright holders do encrypt the content such that only those with the right digital keys can unlock the content. Device manufacturers then embed these keys in devices which treat their owners as the attacker, trying to ensure that these owners cannot control what they own.

If it were possible for the content to be unlocked by a device not locked down by the manufacturer, meaning that the content could be decoded on any device, then the DRM system claiming to protect copyright would cease to exist.

Media needs to be standardized, but it is impossible to have "standardized DRM" as DRM is defined as a system which only allows the content to be decoded with a specifically defined subset of tools where the owners of those tools are treated as the attacker of what they own.

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Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
Link Flag
The real problem with DRM is ...
The real problem with DRM is that there's no such thing as partially restrictive DRM. The problem that "freedom if info"movements have with DRM is that the real plan here is to completely ban the right to program computers from anyone except a few multi-million dollar corporations that produce hardware. The plan is that this would be buried in the hardware, and that means blocking people from actually doing computer programming, because if there is access to real computer programming, then the software can always bypass any kind of "protection".

The other problem is legislation that forbids any kind of activity that may be used (as a side effect) to infringe on copyright. So it's not necessary to provide real DRM. You just call it DRM and it becomes illegal to touch it. In effect it makes any kind of programmer involved in any kind of development a criminal, because what would determine if the programming activity is illegal is not what the programmer does, but what uses might be found for the product in the future. So you might develop a protocol for efficient distribution of files, but then someone decides that "files" include "copyrighted material inside files" so what you did is illegal. OK that's not DRM, but the same principle applies to DRM. There are laws to protect copyright holders. Now they are extendedin ways that restrict other creators too much, ands they don't have to agree to those restrictions. In real life what happens is that when balance is broken in the laws than the laws lose their effect. People might pay lots of taxes to the king, but then one day decide that taxing their tea is too much, and then they break loose of that king. The same would happen if programming hardware would be forbidden. People would not stop doing it. But it would provide a new nieche for the mafia, just like forbidding the sale of alcohol did a while back.
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DRM is code - code can be beaten
DRM is basically a program, whether it is on a chip or not.
This means that some clever programmer with enough time and inclination will break the code and allow access to the content.

I can see no way to protect digital content from those who really want to access it for free. Starting from this point of view a totally new system for managing digital product distribution needs to be found.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Analog Hole Beats DRM
DRM will never be popular with consumers. It's anti consumer no matter how much lipstick you apply to the pig. With the current laws regarding DRM corporations have found creative ways to exploit it for anti competitive uses as well. Any DRM that is not defeated out right can be beaten through the "analog hole" and then re digitized with minor degradation. My final thought here is the irony of a Hip-hop artist trying to protect his work from copy infringement. Didn't unauthorized sampling of protected music play a vital role in the emergence of this musical genre? It kind of parallels the the work of Walt Disney. In his early days he "appropriated" material from other original sources but later his works were zealously protected from others doing the same to him. Even many years after his death the cease and desist orders still land on those who try to use Micky in ways the Evil Empire- err Disney Corp deems unprofitable to their bottom line.
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
TPMs protecting or circumventing rights..
The use of the term DRM hides the real debate. You have "technical" people posting here talking about the good aspects of technologies that can protect privacy and other such rights, masking the fact that this has nothing to do with the DRM debate.

The basic question for me is this: is this technology being used to protect the rights (privacy, property, copyright, etc) of the owners of Information Technology, or is it being used to circumvent the rights of owners.

I don't care what a device manufacturer allow me to do once they have denied my ability to own and control my own communications technology. The very fact that they have circumvented my property rights on the devices that I own, including the right to install whatever software I want on the devices that I own, is itself the problem.

Protecting property rights in a digital world
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Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DRM doesn't work
the problem with DRM is that it is cryptography (or steganography) where you give away the key. forget all the moral and legal questions for which there is no technological answer and focus on the technological truth: with DRM you are encrypting something (a song, movie, document) to protect it from piracy and then giving the key away so the consumer can use it. that's stupid.

that's why DRM will always be defeated, many times faster than it can be implemented. see DeCSS, fairuse4wm, etc.
Posted by chris__anderson (23 comments )
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