An Exploration of Rights Management Technologies Used in the Music Industry

2007Technology Law

Nika Aldrich

On November 19, 2005, the Attorney General of the State of Texas filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG. This action was followed promptly by class action lawsuits in California and New York. Nine actions from New York, one from California, and one from New Mexico were involved in the consolidation action of April 2006. Elsewhere, a complaint to the Federal Government was filed in Italy against Sony BMG. With this flurry of lawsuits, the term, “Digital Rights Management” was thrust into the court system. As the consolidated action settles and the term “Digital Rights Management” makes its way into common parlance as well as legal nomenclature, an opportunity arises to discuss the history of rights management systems in the audio industry that has led to the current situation. This comment will analyze the complex history of rights management in the music industry over the past 100 years. This history includes a technical look at the difficulties in enforcing copy controls, various music release formats and the rights management systems on which those formats relied, and the struggle with adding ex post facto rights management systems to formats that are already pervasive. This comment then discusses the various reasons why rights management systems are not only desirable, but necessary in today’s environment. With a thorough background of the issues relating to rights management, recommendations are provided as to how to remedy the various problems that plague the music industry and set a more appropriate path as technology continues to affect the rights of copyright holders.

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