Review: DRM-less Online Media Store Offers Hope To Consumers

Posted on Wed 02 November 2005 in Dispatches • 4 min read

I recently came upon a Boing Boing post regarding a new online store serving up digital media for the public. The store is Common Media, which has been supplying free fair-use media for a while now, but as a commerce site it comes in two flavors: Common Tunes and Common Flix, which are music and video stores respectively. What is so significant about this service that I feel the need to write you a review?

There are two reasons.

One, this service primarily uses BitTorrent for the distribution of products, which means that as the service gains popularity the rate of downloads will increase exponentially with very low additional bandwidth costs to their server, which also further demonstrates the legitimate business uses of the BitTorrent system. Now, Common Media is not alone is utilizing torrents to serve up purchased media, several other sites have also risen that have recognized the value in using BitTorrent.

What is significant about Common Media is that it is completely DRM-less. That’s right, Common Media only sells and serves up media that is free of digitally imposed use restrictions. This is excellent news for consumers, as they will be able to enjoy their purchases in any fashion they choose. They will no longer be restricted to utilizing commercially produced players such as WMP, Winamp or iTunes. Windows users will be able to listen to music in any media playing software, which is wonderful as some of the best software for Windows (e.g. Quintessential Player, musikCube) are not able to play DRM media because their creators have refused to sell their souls away, or are open source and thus cannot use the proprietary DRM code.

This is cause for rejoicing among Linux users as they will be able to take advantage of the digital media movement in commerce. Currently, users of the open-source operating system have been unable to participate in this movement due to the inability of open-source applications to utilize DRM. As a result, such services have been restricted to use in Windows or Mac environments. In the past Linux users have found ways to run iTunes or Napster under Windows emulation, but the DRM encoded in the files themselves have always been problematic to solve. I for one have no problem whatsoever paying for my songs and movies, in fact I will happily do so if I can actually get to enjoy them. As a Linux user I am thrilled at the ability to purchase files that I can enjoy without rebooting into Windows or rerecording the file.

The music and film providers also do well in this deal as they receive 70% of all the proceeds from sales of their products which are transferred to them via PayPal each quarter.

The site itself is relatively simple to navigate with a rather slick Live Search feature for finding the offered files. Items that need to be purchased are prefaced with a “$”.

Okay, I’ve been raving about this for a little bit, let’s also take a quick peek at some of the negatives.

Well, the service is very new, and it will probably take a little work to convince artists of the commercial advantages of using this site to distribute their work, so the selection is somewhat limited. Although there is still quite a bit to choose from and new bands/filmmakers to find. In fact, this will probably be the ideal method of publicizing and releasing independent work. Also, BitTorrent can be a limitation in itself if users refuse to reseed the files they download. It’s pretty easy to do this, just leave your BitTorrent clients running so others who purchase the file can also take advantage of the swarming algorithm to download files quickly. Until users get accustomed to doing so, this will be a challenge for every commercial site that attempts to use BitTorrent.

Lastly, the site only accepts credit cards for payment via 2Checkout.com’s reliable order management. As iTunes and Napster support PayPal, Common Media will need this to able to compete, and it seems like a reasonable addition as their providers are paid utilizing the ubiquitous payment management service that every Internet user has come to know and love. I contacted Jeff Reifman at Common Media regarding this issue, and he explained how since the site is still in development they are focusing on one payment system in order to keep their programming focused and maximize their coding resources. He did indicate that Common Media would like to incorporate PayPal purchases in the future, and that there has even been discussion of utilizing services such as the new cell phone providers that allow their customers to pay for services via messaging. Incorporation of these additional and ultra-convenient payment methods would certainly make the store a force to be reckoned with.

In conclusion, while it is definitely early in its development, Common Media is a welcome change in the arena of digital commerce and I am excited about the possibilities and freedoms it will give back to the forgotten people of that industry: the consumers.