Nachruf for DRM

About 20 years ago I went to the Proms, a yearly event at Albert Hall in London where a fairly eclectic selection of music (mainly classical) is performed. That year there was the world premiere of a piece of amazing music I now know is called "Nachruf for Strings" by a Norwegian composer ("nachruf", I am told, means "obituary" in Norwegian).

I remembered the piece a few days ago and e-mailed the Norwegian Society of Composers to see if I could learn more. In 24 hours I got a reply from a very helpful gentlemen named Thorgrim who asked another chap named Torkild who came up not only with the correct name of the piece but also the composer's name, Arne Nordheim, and a Web site where I could purchase it!

The site for acquiring this gem is Norsk Komponist Forening, a showcase for Norwegian music that is varied and prolific. Thus it was that I found there before me, ready to be mine, all seven minutes and 28 seconds of "Nachruf for Strings" for the princely sum of 13.50 Kroner (about $2.24).

I clicked on the "Buy" icon and got "We're sorry . . . Your PC does not seem to be configured to handle encrypted WMA files." Allow me to translate: "We're sorry, but we're using Microsoft Digital Rights Management, which requires Internet Explorer, which you apparently aren't using so we can't help you."

They were right: I use Firefox. The requirement for IE was irritating but not a real problem. I ran up IE and found the track, added it to my basket, and then found out they wouldn't accept charges less than 35NKr ($5.81). OK, so I found another Nordheim composition so I was over the minimum and completed the purchase.

After downloading the tracks I tried to play them in Windows Media Player and got a warning dialog. But the dialog was in Norwegian and, as you might guess, my Norwegian is a little, er, nonexistent. But there was a link to click on. This gave me another warning in Norwegian.

I discovered there is a bug in Microsoft's Windows Media Player 11. The support document titled "BUG: You may be redirected to a Web page when you try to play Windows Media DRM protected content after you upgrade to Windows Media Player 11 or to Windows Vista," and dated Feb. 7, offered a way to address the problem. So, I downloaded a patch from Microsoft, installed it, restarted WMP, and voilá! WMP acquired the licenses and there it was, in all its glory, the piece of music I had heard 20 years before. And it was glorious.

So, after I luxuriated in the strains of "Nachruf for Strings" what did I do next? I burned a CD and ripped it back to an MP3 so I could play it on my iPod because, guess what? I don't own a device that plays protected WMAs!

So, what was my "take away" from this saga? First, the folks at Norsk Komponist Forening, in common with many other Web sites, have next to no idea about the value of a positive customer experience. This is apparent because they obviously haven't actually tested the purchase and download process to see if it actually works for everyone. If they had, they would know that it can be user friendly in the same way that a cornered rat is user friendly.

Second, Microsoft's patching is hardly comprehensive; how could the company omit a patch that renders their DRM unusable?

Third, Microsoft's DRM is incredibly poorly thought out if it can fail like that. Pathetic is the term that comes to mind.

Fourth, we have yet another example of how DRM in general - and for music in particular - doesn't help sell content. If I had been a naive user I would have probably just given up.

I pray that I will never have to find another piece of Norwegian music. My next challenge may be some amazing Mongolian hip hop I heard, I think, on NPR a few months ago. I wonder how hard getting that will be ...

PS. A big "Tusen takk" to Thorgrim and Torkild.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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