Category Archives: DRM

Steve’s Thoughts on Music

Steve Jobs has written an article titled “Thoughts on Music” in which he blames DRM entirely on the labels. Steve claims Apple wants to sell DRM-free music but the labels won’t let them. This of course flies in the face of reality. From an article in the NYTimes last month:

Among the artists who can be found at eMusic are Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, who are represented by Nettwerk Music Group, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. All Nettwerk releases are available at eMusic without copy protection.

But when the same tracks are sold by the iTunes Music Store, Apple insists on attaching FairPlay copy protection that limits their use to only one portable player, the iPod. Terry McBride, Nettwerk’s chief executive, said that the artists initially required Apple to use copy protection, but that this was no longer the case. At this point, he said, copy protection serves only Apple’s interests .

Josh Bernoff, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, agreed, saying copy protection “just locks people into Apple.” He said he had recently asked Apple when the company would remove copy protection and was told, “We see no need to do so.”

Apple’s statement is a detailed treatise on the subject, compared with what I received when I asked the company last week whether it would offer tracks without copy protection if the publisher did not insist on it: the Apple spokesman took my query and never got back to me.

It should not take Apple’s iTunes team more than 2-3 days to implement a solution for not wrapping content with FairPlay when the content owner does not mandate DRM. This could be done in a completely transparent way and would not be confusing to the users.

Actions speak louder than words, Steve.

iHandcuffs

Arstechnica published an article earlier this week titled “Why DRM’s best friend might just be Apple Inc.“. Every time someone points out that Apple is a supporter of DRM, the Mac faithful come out of the woodworks to promote the delusion that Apple does not really support DRM and that they’re simply forced to use DRM by the record labels and studios. This of course flies in the face of reality:

  • Apple is refusing to open up FairPlay to other companies.
  • Apple is applying FairPlay to files from record labels that do not require DRM.

From a NYTimes story today titled “Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs“:

Among the artists who can be found at eMusic are Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, who are represented by Nettwerk Music Group, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. All Nettwerk releases are available at eMusic without copy protection.

But when the same tracks are sold by the iTunes Music Store, Apple insists on attaching FairPlay copy protection that limits their use to only one portable player, the iPod. Terry McBride, Nettwerk’s chief executive, said that the artists initially required Apple to use copy protection, but that this was no longer the case. At this point, he said, copy protection serves only Apple’s interests .

Josh Bernoff, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, agreed, saying copy protection “just locks people into Apple.” He said he had recently asked Apple when the company would remove copy protection and was told, “We see no need to do so.”

Apple’s statement is a detailed treatise on the subject, compared with what I received when I asked the company last week whether it would offer tracks without copy protection if the publisher did not insist on it: the Apple spokesman took my query and never got back to me.

From a 2004 blog post by Fred von Lohmann at the EFF titled “FairPlay: Another Anticompetitive Use of DRM“:

On a panel a few weeks ago, I asked the head lawyer for Apple’s iTunes Music Store whether Apple would, if it could, drop the FairPlay DRM from tracks purchased at the Music Store. He said “no.” I was puzzled, because I assumed that the DRM obligation was imposed by the major labels on a grudging Apple.

When will the Mac faithful stop deluding themselves?

iTunes FUD

The Financial Times has an article out about some of the movie studios trying to force Apple to increase the FairPlay restrictions.

But the studios are concerned about growth of digital piracy, which currently costs the film industry $3.2bn a year. They want Apple to make changes to the way iTunes works before they do a deal.

Specifically, they object to the fact that you can sync to an unlimited number of iPods.

Currently, content on iTunes can be uploaded to an unlimited number of iPods. This means people can freely copy music content by “synching” their iPods with their friends’ computers.

The studios are putting pressure on Apple to limit the number of iPods that can be used by iTunes on a particular computer. Limiting the number of video iPods used by any one computer to four or five will, they believe, deter professional content pirates.

That’s a huge vehicle for piracy! If it was actually true, that is. The notion that professional pirates (or any pirates for that matter) rely on this iTunes capability is ludicrous.

An iPod is paired with a single iTunes library. If I sync my iTunes library to your iPod, that content will get wiped out as soon as you sync your own library to your iPod.

Two facts conveniently ignored by the FT journalist:

1. iTunes doesn’t let you sync files from an iPod to a computer except for FairPlay files and you need the username and password for the account the FairPlay files were purchased under.
2. The fact that 3rd party tools exist to let you sync any file from any iPod to any computer does not matter. Why? Because a copy of a FairPlay file is useless without the username and passord for the account the file was purchased under.

To share a FairPlay file you also have to share the username and password. I doubt this happens to any measurable extent:

1. Your credit card is linked to your username and password (meaning someone else will be buying Britney Spears songs with your money, and more importantly, in your name).
2. Someone else will be using up one of your 5 computer authorizations.

Zune FUD II

The amount of Zune FUD is reaching staggering proportions following Microsoft’s Zune launch.

C.W. Nevius has a blog post over at the S.F. Chronicle titled “Zune Reinforces Microsoft’s Dorky Image“. Nevius links to TechTree that claims:

For starters, in order to download the Zune software, a user’s system has to meet certain requirements; namely, Win XP SP2, processor running at minimum 1.5GHz, and so on. By comparison, Apple Computer’s iTunes 7 software does not have any such hardware requirements.

Actually, the CPU requirement for the Zune software is 500 MHz, just like for the iTunes software. The 1.5 GHz Zune requirement is only for video playback.

TechTree also claims:

Also, to download the Zune software, users’ need to use only Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7). The software cannot be downloaded by using Mozilla’s Firefox for instance.

Actually, the software downloads just fine with Firefox.

The Mac zealots will have you believe that the Zune is no threat to Apple. If they really believe that, why do they resort to FUD?

Another example is Andy Ihnatko in an article titled “Avoid the loony Zune” for the Chicago Sun-Times:

You’ll find that the Zune Planet orbits the music industry’s Bizarro World, where users aren’t allowed to do anything that isn’t in the industry’s direct interests.

The iPod owns 85 percent of the market because it deserves to. Apple consistently makes decisions that benefit the company, the users and the media publishers — and they continue to innovatively expand the device’s capabilities without sacrificing its simplicity.

Companies such as Toshiba and Sandisk (with its wonderful Nano-like Sansa e200 series) compete effectively with the iPod by asking themselves, “What are the things that users want and Apple refuses to provide?”

Microsoft’s colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question and put the music industry in its place.

Mr. Ihnatko would have you believe that Apple listens to the user’s needs, while Microsoft listens to the music industry’s needs. Yet the Zune lets you sync non-DRM’ed music back to your computer and the iPod doesn’t (the iPod only allows you to sync DRM’ed music back). From ExtremeTech’s Zune review:

Reverse Sync: Just as it is with Media Player 11, getting songs off your Zune is a snap. When you select your Zune on the left side of the player, you can browse the content that’s on it by artist, genre, etc. Not many people notice this, but the right-hand sync pane will now say “drag items here to create a list to sync from [Zune Name] to your computer.” Just drag whatever tracks, albums, or artists you want to dump from your Zune to your PC media library, hit Sync, and you’re golden. Simple. The hoops you have to jump through to get music off your iPod look silly by comparison.

Imagine that! Microsoft providing users with a feature that Apple refuses to provide. Not that a Mac zealot will ever admit to any such thing.

The Zune definitely has its drawbacks: software installation takes way too long (hopefully fixed in the next version, there’s no reason why it should take so long), hard drive access not enabled by default, misleading points system for purchasing songs, lack of MacOS X and Linux support, etc. However, when a reviewer fails to say anything good about the Zune, such as noting the sync files back to computer feature, it’s obvious that the reviewer has been exposed to the Reality Distortion Field for way too long. From Wikipedia:

RDF is the idea that Steve Jobs is able to convince people to believe almost anything with a skillful mix of charm, charisma, slight exaggeration, and clever marketing.

Arstechnica on hacking DRM

Arstechnica has published an article called “Hacking Digital Rights Management” that mentions some of my work.

QTFairUse would not be the program to bring unencumbered iTunes downloads to the mainstream user, but it did represent one possible line of attack. Another approach was provided by playfair, a little program capable of stripping the DRM from iTunes files.

In retrospect, releasing QTFairUse was a mistake. In winter 2003 I did two things:

1. Released QTFairUse
2. Reverse engineered FairPlay and added support to the VideoLAN Client for playing FairPlay files. The tools m4p2mp4, playfair and hymn all use the VideoLAN FairPlay code.

For some reason a lot of people think I only did the first. I guess keeping two facts in your head at the same time is hard.

QTFairUse relied on Apple’s software to decrypt the protected song files and then grabbed the unencrypted music from RAM. It then wrote this data to an unencrypted AAC file that turned out not be readable by most music players.

QTFairUse was aimed at a technical audience and as such I did not include documentation for normal users. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Many non-technical users, not knowing the difference between a raw AAC file (extension .aac) and a MPEG4 AAC file (extension .mp4 or .m4a), claimed that QTFairUse did not work after they had tried to play an .aac file in an audio player that doesn’t support .aac files.

Note: the Arstechnica journalist wanted to interview me for the article but I was busy moving to SF at the time so I declined.

“A digital thing lasts forever”

This comment over in the Ars forums:

The need for backups was more of an issue back in the days of magnetic media, where the originals could and did degrade over time to the point of being useless.

reminded me of this comment by Jack Valenti, former president of the MPAA:

Where did this backup copy thing come from? A digital thing lasts forever.

A while ago I bought GoldenEye on DVD. New discs of this Bond movie are not being made anymore so I bought it used. The disc did not have any noticable scratches yet all my DVD players were unable to play the last 30 minutes of the movie. Most likely a bad case of DVD rot.

Jack, DVDs do not last forever, but comments such as this one probably will:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.
— Jack Valenti, “Home Recording of Copyrighted Works,” Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, April 12, 1982

Gadgets for sale

Nokia 770I am selling the following items. If you live in downtown San Francisco I will personally deliver the item(s) to you.

  • Nokia 770: Used for 6 weeks. This unit is very special as it has been touched by the iCEO! (oh, and me, but I’m not quite at his level of fame). Runs Linux and is very hackable. $300.
  • 3G iPod 40GB: Used for 2.5 years. Own a piece of DRM history! This is the iPod I used when I reverse engineered FairPlay in winter 2003/2004. Battery needs replacing as it doesn’t last very long anymore. $150.
  • Firewire PCMCIA card: Nothing exotic here. Used only for a few days. $10 with purchase of any item above $50.
  • AUDIOTRAK OPTOPlay: Used for a few months. $30 with purchase of any item above $50.

Update: The Nokia 770 and the iPod have been sold.

Audiobubble Music Store

I received an email from the Audiobubble team about their online music store.

Audiobubble isn’t your average online music store.

It began in early 2005, when two musicians, Shaun Russell and Tom Chambers, decided to create a music service that was fair to artists and fair to customers. Tired of puny 30 second previews, lack of customer trust and lack of freedom for the artist, they created the Audiobubble concept.

We don’t use DRM because we know it isn’t consumer friendly. Shame that Napster, iTunes and other online music giants can’t wake up to this fact. Audiobubble is about freedom. Join the revolution!

I signed up for an account and was listening to previews in no time under Ubuntu Linux. The only information asked for during signup was email, username and password.

Payment is handled through PayPal, so if you don’t have a PayPal account and refuse to sign up for one you’re out of luck.

Other online stores that sell music files without DRM: Magnatune, Bleep, Mindawn, Audio Lunchbox.

DeAACS.com

AACS, like CSS, will be a success. Not at preventing piracy. That’s not the primary objective of any DRM system. Anyone who has read the CSS license agreement knows that the primary objective is to control the market for players. Don’t you just love when your DVD player tells you “This operation is prohibited” when you try to skip the intro?

6 years ago I didn’t think of registering decss.com. Not intending to make the same mistake twice, a while ago I registered deaacs.com.

Now if only products that implement AACS would come to market…