I'll keep this about music, however. Let's just mention a few vocabulary terms for you to memorize.
- .wav - a wav file is an uncompressed audio file. If you just ripped a track on your computer from a cd, that would be a wav.
- mp3 - stand for M-PEG 1 Audio Layer 3, which is a compressed audio file. Mp3s can be played on any player (there may be some exceptions to this)
- .wma - Windows Media Audio. These can be played on nearly all players, with the exception of iPods, which, naturally, do not play well with Windows. This is not due to DRM inherent in the format, but rather with iPods being programmed not to accept them.
- .aac - stands for Advanced Audio Coding - this is the default audio format for iTunes, and consequently, iPods. For a long time, only iPods could play this format, but in the last year or so, other players have been coded to accept it.
- Fairplay - the DRM coding used by iTunes - this restricts files bought through iTunes to only allow certain types of usage, as well as certain players.
I believe that one of the biggest problems people have with DRM and music files isn't that it exists, but it implies that all music consumers are pirates who can't wait to download or buy music and then share it with everyone illegally. In reality, this is far from the truth. The majority of music consumers just want to be able to purchase music - only one time, though - and be able to listen to it on their computer or portable device of their choosing. This sounds very simple, but there is nothing in DRM that allows for shared households, such as a married couple. If Chris buys a song on iTunes, I can't use it without all sorts of cumbersome circumventions. The easiest thing is to just buy the song twice, even though by law, we jointly own everything. Most other online music stores have similar restrictions built into their products that restrict the number of times a file can be copied, burned, and sometimes even listened to. In this way, DRM actually encourages normally law-abiding music owners to become pirates - it's easier to get music illegally if you want to be able to use it!
It's frustrating, too, because even if there IS rampant file sharing (re: back in the days of Napster, before it became legit), real music lovers would still prefer purchase songs legitimately. With file-sharing, there are a lot of unknowns - the file might be bad, it might be corrupted, it might not be the whole song, there are connection issues, etc. It's so much easier to be able to puchase music from a trustworthy source, and get all the correct metadata (title, artist, album, etc), and album covers. It's not as if most people want to be pirates - we just want to buy music!
Many of these restrictions are part of the panic-stricken efforts of the RIAA (Recording Industry of America Association). Granted, they're having a hard time adjusting to the digital world, but they're really going about it the wrong way. I have a feeling that this will be coming to a head within the next few years, and when that does happen, the music industry as we know it will be drastically different.
As Kelly mentions, iTunes is now selling some DRM-free files. While I applaud this step, I'm still cranky, because I have to pay a 30-cent premium to have the privilege of using the music I buy. I have to pay more just to have the usual First Sale privileges granted by Fair Use.
It all gets really complicated when you look at licenses and copyright law - and we all know I'm no lawyer (...but I play one...never mind). However, I'd like to point you to the Copyfight link in my sidebar if you're interested in further reading. Additionally, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has many interesting posts on the topic.