Tag Archives: Copyright law

Foiling EMI

Further to my rant yesterday about digital rights management, my friend Mark tells me that getting around the Coldplay X&Y copy protection is easy — just rip it on a Mac. He’s right, at least for me: Works like a dream, after no joy at all on two ThinkPads.

This may not be true with all copies of the CD. I bought mine in Hong Kong in 2005, although it appears to be imported from Europe. A piece on ConsumerAffairs says the “CD’s restrictions also prevent it from being played or copied on Macintosh PCs.” Some folk reported problems playing it on their Macs.

Hopefully this idiocy will not last much longer. Boing Boing reported a couple of weeks ago that EMI was apparently ending copy protection on new CDs, although I’ve not seen anything since. If this is true, I suggest we all send our Coldplay and other copy protected CDs back to EMI and demand copies without DRM on them.

The Death of DRM, the Rise of Patrons

Forget being a big old mass music consumer. Become a Patron of the Arts.

The IHT’s Victoria Shannon chronicles the last few gasps of life in Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music, saying that “With the falloff in CD sales persisting and even digital revenue growth now faltering in the face of rampant music sharing by consumers, the major record labels appear to be closer than ever to releasing music on the Internet with no copying restrictions.” This has the inevitability of death about it (this morning I tried again to rip my DRM-crippled Coldplay CD of X&Y, unsuccessfully) which makes me wonder: What will follow?

Most thoughts seem to be on the free music, supported by advertising, and largely distributed as promotion for expensive live concerts:

Jacques Attali, the French economist … who forecast in his newest book that all recorded music would be free in the next several decades — consumers will instead pay for live performances, he predicted — said the business model of digital music should reflect the old radio model: free online music supported by advertising.

“A lot of people will still make money out of it,” he said during an interview at Midem.

I think this shows a lack of imagination and understanding of how music has fractured. My sense is that while Britney Spears will continue to exist in the Celebrity for Celebrity’s Sake World, music has already spread via MySpace etc into much smaller, more diverse niches. I’m not saying anything sparkingly new here, but given that most articles about the majors and DRM and online file sharing focus on the big numbers, I would have thought a much more interesting model to look at is that on places like eMusic, of which I’ve been a subscriber since 2002.

What happens for me is this: I find an artist I like by searching through what neighbors are selecting for me, like this balloon on my login page:

And then I’ll follow my nose until I find something I like. Or I’ll listen to Last.fm until I hear something I really like and then see if it’s up on eMusic. This is all pretty obvious, and I’m sure lots of people do this, and probably more, already. But what I think this leads to is a kind of artistic patronage where we consumers see it in our interests to support those musicians we love.

In my case, for example, if I really like the stuff of one artist I’ll try to contact them and tell them so: No one so far has refused to write back and hasn’t sounded appreciative to hear from a fan. Examples of this are Thom Brennan and Tim Story, whose music I find a suitable accompaniment to anything, from jogging to taking night bus rides to Chiangmai in the rain. I’m summoning up the courage to contact my long time hero, David Sylvian, who doesn’t have a direct email address.

Of course, nowadays one can view their MySpace page, or join an email newletter, and build links up there. But my point is this: My relationship with these musicians is much more along traditional lines of someone who will support their artistic output through financial support — buying their music in their hope that it will help them produce more.

Surely the Internet has taught us one very useful lesson in the past year: That it’s well-suited to help us find what we want, even if can’t define well what it is. First step was Google, which helped us find what we wanted if we knew some keywords about it. Next step: a less specific wander, a browse in the old sense, that helps us stumble upon that which we know we’ll want when we find it.

Some (Not So) Light Reading

For those of you easing back into work after the holidays, or stuck in the office before the New Year partying begins, here are some suggestions for Internet reading.

The future of Microsoft: Is 2004 going to be Redmond’s swansong? Some people think so, including The Inquirer, which says that the company’s flat first quarter earnings are a sign “it is running low on wiggle room, the core customers are negotiating hard, and Microsoft is giving way”. Interesting, if somewhat aggressive, reading. For the usual Slashdot discussion of the topic, go here. Certainly it’s going to be a difficult year for Microsoft, and one way the company may go is to try to further lock in users to its formats — Word, audio, Excel, whatever — and to lock other software companies out.

That’s also the tack that veteran commentator Steve Gillmor believes Apple is taking with its iPod. He points out that what was once a MP3 player is now threatening to be a lot more than that, from a PDA to a video device (to a handphone, as well). But Gillmor also points out that this is part of a bigger battle to try to establish one kind of Digital Rights Management over another. (This basically is a legal and software trick that limits your freedom to copy or alter files, whether they’re music, words or pictures. Say your version of Microsoft Word supported DRM, you may find yourself unable, say, to copy a document you’re viewing, or to save it in another format, or, more insidiously, unable to access a Word document composed in a non-Microsoft program, say, Open Office. DRM effectively removes the kind of supremacy you’ve enjoyed over what you own: In music, for example, DRM would mean you rent rather than own your CD collection.)

Gillmor discusses Apple’s approach, which is slightly different, but with seemingly similar goals: To lock the consumer into using a proprietary format. I think consumers will — and should — fight any attempt to limit access to their files, whether they be music, words, pictures or movies, tooth and nail. Legitimate fears of piracy and security should not allow any corporation to dictate the size or make of wall protecting us (look at e-voting for the lessons we should learn on that.). This year will define where we go on this issue. Or as Mr Gillmor says: “With the election looming as a referendum on issues of security, rights and opportunity, and the Internet emerging as a major player for the first time, DRM may be democracy’s Last Waltz.”

Update: More DRM Woes For Online Music

 Further to my previous post about DRM, or digital rights management, here’s a story from IDG News Service about software that may allow Windows-using customers of Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store to break the DRM technology that protects files downloaded from that service.
 
That the guy who posted it — or hosted it — is Jon Lech Johansen, also known as “DVD Jon” is interesting. Johansen was arrested in Norway in 1999 after he created software to crack the copy protection on DVDs, according to IDG. He was acquitted on the grounds he was entitled to access information on a DVD that he had purchased, and was therefore entitled to use his program to break the code.
 
This is, as IDG points out, at least the second time since its release on October 16 that restrictions in iTunes for Windows have been circumvented by developers. Bill Zeller’s MyTunes application allows Windows users to download music from an iTunes shared playlist over a network.
 
IDG quotes an analyst saying this kind of thing won’t necessarily be widely used, due to the low cost of online music. But he does point out that it raises costs for the likes of Apple. So why don’t people go the route of Emusic, whose MP3 files are unencumbered by DRM, meaning you can use them anywhere, anytime, and make any number of backups? I use Emusic because the music now belongs to me, physically and absolutely.

News: The Future of Music and DRM

 For those of you interested in the debate about copyright protection for music (digital rights management, or DRM, as it’s called) here’s an interesting article from the industry point of view — and a lively discussion on the lively Slashdot forum (some contributions are more, er, erudite than others).
 
Something I think hasn’t been thought through by either side on the debate is that once a product ceases to be purely the property of the holder — like a CD — then problems will occur. What happens if I want to sell the music I’ve downloaded via an online service using DRM? What happens when I want to sell software I’ve bought that uses an activation feature? In the old days I could just sell my CDs, or CD-ROMs, out of the trunk of my car.

News: The MP3 Party Is Over?

 CNN reports that more than a million households deleted all the digital music files they had saved on their PCs in August, a sign that the record industry’s anti-piracy tactics are hitting home. It quoted research company NPD Group as crediting the ongoing anti-piracy campaign by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and said publicity about the move led more consumers to delete musical files. In August, 1.4 million households deleted all music files, whereas prior to August, deletions were at much lower levels, according to Port Washington.

Mail: Piracy and Poverty

 This in response to my posting about file sharing program Grokster offering an ad-free version, in which I asked:
 
I don’t want to get into the ethics and legality of MP3 swapping, but it strikes me that if folk are exchanging music for free online, they’re not likely to be the kind of folk to want to shell out $20 for software. And if they are, they can hardly plead poverty for their piracy, can they?
 
Lynn Dimick writes:
 
How many people are pleading poverty for piracy? It has been my experience that many people are upset with the music industry and their heavy handed price fixing methods. Right or wrong they feel justified in sharing music because they have been ripped off in the past. Also, is it really that different than recording songs off the radio like we used to do as kids?
 
I agree with you about people being upset, but I’m not so sure about the recording off the radio bit. Digital versions don’t have DJs interrupting before the end of the song, and they’re perfect copies, and can be copied perfectly and distributed easily. I can give you my whole music collection on a CD or two. That makes it a different ballgame…
 
 
 

Update: Cracking the code

Microsoft Reader: a clarification
 
 
 Further to my note about successful efforts to crack the new code protecting the copyright of Microsoft Reader ebooks, here’s a clarification from Dan Jackson, who keeps a copy of the software which can circumvent the code on his website:
 
I noticed you have an article concerning the new version of Convert LIT 1.4. Just thought I’d straighten a few things out. Due to a miscommunication between myself and the author, a few copies were indeed sent out anonymously, but the program and its source code are now freely available from the Dan Jackson Software website at http://members.lycos.co.uk/hostintheshell/ – this is the official site for Convert LIT and all binaries residing on there have been fully tested and virus scanned.
Like yourself, I do not condone the use of this tool for copyright violation, and the technical limits of the program help to curb that to some extent (owner-exclusive DRM5 eBooks can still only be converted on the machine on which the activated copy of Reader which was used to purchase them is installed). The primary intention of the program is to allow other platforms or devices to be able to access Microsoft Reader format files. Hope this information is of use, Dan Jackson.
 
Thanks, Dan. Of course none of this detracts from the fact that the code has been broken, and quickly too. Microsoft, your move.
 
 
 

News: Protecting the Unprotectable

 However much they spend, Microsoft don’t seem to be able to fend off the hackers. A new version of its Reader — designed to allow users of the handheld device to read copyright protected versions of ebooks, while ensuring they don’t copy the ebooks or do thing with them they’re not supposed to — has been hacked within days of its release, according to my friend Jerry Justianto, who runs a blog on the subject.
 
 
He says the digital rights management scheme (DRM for short) was a major upgrade, but has gone the way of its predecessors, courtesy of an updated version of Convert Lit, a very small program (32K), which was sent to him anonymously. The program, he says, will either remove the DRM encryption or it will explode the ebook into an unprotected version or an HTML file that can be read in a normal browser, complete with pictures.
 
Jerry is scathing about the update. He points out that Microsoft are effectively forcing users to get the upgrade even though it includes no major new features — except the security ones — and will require many users to re-register their hardware in order to keep using it. Check out what Microsoft itself says of the upgrade. Neither Jerry or I condone breaking the law, but this tug of war between producer and hacker has got to stop. It’s a waste of time for everybody, and the money could be better spent not trying to limit what we users do with our possessions. Your views, as ever, are welcome.