In the end, any sanctioned 3rd party music distribution service is going to exist at the whim of the media corporations who own the copyrights. Look at what's happening in the online video services.
I firmly believe that once music downloads
completely replace music media
purchases, you'll see all the big companies (like Sony) start to circle their wagons. Most will ultimately handle their own distribution directly from their own servers.
I'm also guessing that the only 3rd party vendors that will remain standing will be companies like Apple, who have wedded distribution to a proprietary hardware platform. And once music distribution gets locked into a handful of proprietary devices, DRM will be here to stay. Amazon already requires digital protection on anything going on their Kindle platform. And that's regardless of what the authors may want to do. If you don't want to put DRM on your book, then you're not going be allowed to distribute it through Amazon. And that rule applies even if you're giving your book away for free.
The only reason DRM isn't in complete control is because things like CDs and DVDs still exist. And it will only be a matter of time before they're no longer manufactured. The media companies would love that for a number of reasons beyond the obvious manufacturing, transportation, and inventory cost savings. Physical media is the only area where they don't have complete control
of their product.
Once music and video stop being put on 'hard media,' it's pretty much all over for the end users. Because once physical media is eliminated, it will be possible to identify the buyer and apply a serial number to every copy of legally obtained media . All music will be fully identified, serialized, and encrypted at the time of release; thereby making anything that doesn't respect those safeguards illegal by default.
And once that happens, all it takes is a small bit of legislation to make the use of anything that ignores DRM (like all those nifty FOSS apps) also an illegal act. Which might seem like no big deal from an enforcement perspective, unless that same law also allowed for watchdog agencies to have a look-see at your PC via the web. Such a law could even require companies like Microsoft to actively participate in an enforcement program if they provide online update services. MS Update already does a scan your installed apps. It doesn't personally identify you when it does so, but there's no technical barrier to prevent it from doing so in the future.
And the law could also be extended to require ISPs to get directly involved. Needless to say, the smaller ISPs wouldn't have the resources to be able to do this. Nor would many want to even if they could. Unfortunately, numerous independent internet providers don't fit in too well with the plans of people who like to control things. So the reluctance or inability of the smaller ISPs to get involved might be viewed as a positive side effect since that would provide a legal basis for getting rid of them as well. Then all that would be left are the major players (like AT&T, Comcast, et al.) in a brave new world finally made safe for
If things continue in the direction they're going, I think the future will be totally DRM-ed as far as music and video are concerned. Once CDs and DVDs go the way of magnetic tapes, it will happen.
Bucking or working around the current system won't fix anything. The only way things will change is if people start acting responsibly and come up with a business model that is fair to all parties involved.
Some place between "$18 per CD" and "free for the taking" there's an answer.
I just hope we can all stop strutting, and posturing, and shouting long enough to to find it.