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Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: DRM

The latest on SOPA/PIPA

The good news is that all of the complaining is working — politicians are backing away from SOPA/PIPA.

The bad news is that the politicians still don’t really get it. The President challenged the technology to again come up with new ways to prevent users from copying things. Don’t miss Nat Torkington’s response.

Why I don’t own a Kindle

The Kindle seems neat and all, but I’m not going to pay for books that I don’t actually own.

The changing model of music sales

Today’s Amazon MP3 store special is Ben Harper’s Diamonds on the Inside. For $1.99, you can download the album in MP3 format with no DRM. Here’s part of a customer review of the album that was written in March 2003:

First of all, this review will not address the actual MUSIC on this disc, which is up to Harper’s usual platinum standard of songwriting and musicianship.

No, this is intended to be a warning that this CD has been laced with copy-protect technology that prevents those who paid for it from making MP3s and whatnot. It also prevents you from even listening to the disc on a computer except by using an extremely low-quality proprietary player that limits the quality to just 48 kbps — about what you’d get from AM radio.

Times change.

MP3 2000

Scott Rosenberg reposts a piece on MP3 from 2000. Here’s my favorite sentence:

Today, though, “having” a new music release is beginning to mean something as vague as having a particular file on your computer’s hard drive.

Here in 2009, the idea that having something means that it exists as a file doesn’t seem vague to most people at all. I don’t think it seemed vague to me back then, either. This also led me to wonder when I first encountered MP3 — I know for sure I started using WinAmp in 1997.

Rosenberg’s comments on the wrongheadedness of the music industry are amazing to read in retrospect. The obvious path was out there, and the recording industry is still hesitant to take it.

Links from January 24th

DRM is not actually dead

A couple of weeks ago I noted that music DRM is dead. While that is basically true, other forms of DRM are going strong, and not just in the world of online video content. The EFF produced a helpful report listing other forms of DRM that Apple uses to shackle its products. Consumers demanding fewer contractual and technical limitations on how they could use music that they purchased killed music DRM — hopefully consumer demand will wipe out other forms of DRM as well.

Music DRM is dead

As Andrew Leonard notes, with Apple’s announcement today that the iTunes Store is phasing out DRM on the music sold there, we can say that music DRM is dead. It took longer than most would have hoped, but I’m so glad to see it happen. It makes you wonder what’s going to happen with the Kindle down the road. I’m still amazed that people are licensing books from Amazon.com instead of buying them for themselves.

Cory Doctorow on the music industry

Cory Doctorow on the deal between ISPs and the music industry to spy on and interfere with music sharers:

This month’s announcement of a back-room deal between ISPs (internet service providers) and the big record companies to spy on suspected copyright infringers and reduce the quality of their internet connections is just the latest paragraph in the record industry’s long, self-pitying suicide note, and it’s left me wishing they’d just pull the trigger already and stop beating their chests and telling us all how unfair it all is.

This paragraph is my favorite:

Will this stop kids from trading infringing files? Kids are time-rich and cash-poor and have an infinite supply of ingenuity and impecuniousness to apply to the job of getting music for free. Last year, my freshman university students in Los Angeles regaled me with stories of “hard-drive parties” where everyone would gather with guitars, beers and whopping great hard drives that cost less than either the guitars or the beers. While the students jammed, sang and danced, they simply synchronised their drives using whatever laptops were lying around, transferring hundreds of gigabytes’ worth of music while composing and recording songs of their own.

Dead media strike again

Bruce Sterling’s Dead Media Project is a catalog of media formats that are no longer in use. In many cases, media stored in these dead formats can no longer be read because there aren’t readers are no longer available for them.

The project came to mind when I read about some trouble my friend Andrew Brown ran into trying to access old archives of The Independent newspaper. The archives were distributed on CD (not yet a dead media format) and can only be accessed using a program that’s installed by a batch program that runs only under MS-DOS 5.

I know it’s been said before, but I think this is the real legacy of DRM, whether it’s protected music files, e-books for the Kindle, or movies you download from the iTunes music store. At some point, even if you have the hardware you need to read the bits, you won’t be able to set up the proper software to access the content.

Back in the day, game companies used to augment their copy protection by distributing code wheels with their games. You were required to look up numbers on the code wheel and enter them in the game in order to proceed, so people who didn’t buy the game were unable to play. My friends and I became very good at dismantling the code wheels, photocopying them, and then building new code wheels from the copies using scissors and an X-Acto knife.

Other games used protection schemes that relied on specific quirks of the hardware they ran on. So not only could you not copy certain games, but you also couldn’t play them unless you had, for example, the Commodore 1541 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive.

The more serious software pirates would crack the games and modify them so that you could play without the code wheel, the required hardware, or whatever else the game creators did to stop rampant piracy. Software companies saw the pirates as evil, but they are the only reason most of the games from back then can still be played today. You can still download those games and play them in emulation mode now, but only because somebody bothered to remove all of the impediments that would otherwise relegate them to the dustbin of history.

I’m sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time to put these newspaper archives in a format that only worked with a specific reader, but now even paying customers can no longer access the content that was once available to them. It’s something to think about next time you’re going to download some content protected by DRM.

My prediction for music DRM

It seems that the recent trend in the music industry has been to make tracks available without DRM but to snub Apple by refusing to allow them to sell the DRM-free tracks through the iTunes Music Store. I suspect that this is a sort of vigilante antitrust action by the record companies that they hope will enable them to recapture a bit of power relative to Apple.

Currently, there are a lot more DRM-free MP3s available for download through Amazon.com than there are through iTunes Music Store, and Sony’s catalog hasn’t been made available yet. It was supposed to be available from Amazon.com at the end of January, but it looks like they missed their date.

I suspect that once Amazon.com has captured a good chunk of the market, the labels will migrate their catalogs to iTunes Plus so that both sites can compete with one another on equal ground. In the meantime, they’re playing favorites to escape from the clutches of Apple. One thing that’s interesting to me is that Amazon.com is actually lowering the price of music downloads, I’m not sure where that fits into the labels’ plans.

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