Post DRM

Digital Rights Managements

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Even I have to admit Steve Jobs’ DRM-bashing letter is pretty good:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

But what’s up with DRMs?

Via Tim Lee.

Addendum: Lots of people want to sell their music DRM-free at the iTunes store.

Worse than crippleware

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

Last post I went along with a NYT article (and apparently recent court case) in describing Digital Restrictions Management as . Bad call on my part.

Traditionally crippleware is free and its aim is to get you to buy a non-crippled version. With DRM you pay for crippled media and its aim to ensure the media stays crippled. Is there any widely deployed DRM that offers to turn itself off completely for the right price?

Perhaps a better term, if not from the customer’s perspective then that of certain businesses, is suicideware. Case in point, Windows Vista. I was reminded of this when Boing Boing just pointed (again) to A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection, the “executive executive summary” of which is “The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.”

From the aforementioned customer’s perspective, traditional suicideware is just temporally crippled-ware. For a software business, perhaps suicideware (I’m making this up) is that which forgets who the customers are, tempting the gods of randomness. Rouletteware? Deathwishware?

iHandcuffs for primitives

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

Via Luis Villa, tomorrow’s New York Times has a decent article headlined Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs. The article title is right (Villa’s summary is a better description, if not a better headline: “iTunes and DRM hurts perfectly innocent customers, fails to stop piracy, and reduces competition”), but it leads off wrong:

like its slimmer iPod siblings, the iPhone’s music-playing function will be limited by factory-installed “crippleware.”

Wrong, the objects of lust can play any MP3 file that is not itself crippled. The (the handcuffs to avoid) is not factory-installed, but purchased from the — tracks crippled by DRM.

Perhaps (the media player and ITunes Store browser), some version of which I assume is factory-installed on the , is perhaps more akin to . Not the type that takes over your computer without your knowledge, but the type that presents you with many opportunities to download and perhaps pay for software and porn that will cripple your computer. It’s a fine line.

The NYT article has a great closing:

IN the long view, Mr. Goldberg said he believes that today’s copy-protection battles will prove short-lived. Eventually, perhaps in 5 or 10 years, he predicts, all portable players will have wireless broadband capability and will provide direct access, anytime, anywhere, to every song ever released for a low monthly subscription fee.

It’s a prediction that has a high probability of realization because such a system is already found in South Korea, where three million subscribers enjoy direct, wireless access to a virtually limitless music catalog for only $5 a month. He noted, however, that music companies in South Korea did not agree to such a radically different business model until sales of physical CDs had collapsed.

Pointing to South Korea, where copy protection has disappeared, Mr. Goldberg invoked the pithy aphorism attributed to the author William Gibson: “The future is here; it’s just not widely distributed yet.”

I’m skeptical that the emphasized (by me) portion above is not exaggerated, though I’ll grant that South Korea is probably some years ahead of music businesses in the U.S. and other places similarly primitive in this respect, which may undergo a transition similar to South Korea’s. But we can also look to markets that started from a very different place, e.g., China.

We could beneficially spend more time looking for examples that may be ahead of the pack or simply different, and not just in the music business.

Copyright turns us into technology idiots

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

Or do copyright enforcement technologies attract people who would be kooks anyway?

Obvious case in point: DRM.

Now this from Paul Hoffert, apparently associated with “Noank Media”, commenting on Rob Kaye’s blog:

The Noank counting system is unique. We count usage by ALL players. Players can be time-based, such as iTunes, Windows Media, open source, our own Noank player, or your own favorite. They can be Microsoft Word, Acrobat Reader, Photoshop, or any other application program. The Noank client reports consumption of all content within our catalog on Windows, Mac, Unix, or recent cell phone devices.

Rob’s response is too polite:

This is nothing but empty hand-waving, I’m sorry. If you were to hire me to implement this system, I would have to politely tell you that this is impossible. I could not code such a thing and I have over a decade of client application programming experience. Please do elaborate on how you’re going to do this. If you’ve solved this I assume that you’ve already filed for some patents, right? What are your patent application numbers? I’d like to look up these exciting details — this is got to be amazing stuff you’re working on!

To which Hoffert responds:

Our tracking system is operational now and we are scaling it for large numbers of users.

Uh huh.

Voluntary collective licensing may have a role to play but I’m afraid I’m going to have to completely write off “Noank Media” before they even have a website.

Copyright mania hass the side effect of reducing perpetual motion research, who knew?

Addendum 20061031: Lucas Gonze writes that collective licensing will never happen. I think I buy his argument:

Users and businesses are moving away from filesharing networks and to the web, where DMCA safe harbor allows many disputes to be resolved peacefully. User-created content has become a substantial part of the media ecosystem over the last few years, and it doesn’t need collective licensing to exist.

Update 20071126: Noank does have a website now and a how it works page that leaves out lots of details but is not implausible. When more details are available I hope to post a retraction. Hoffert’s language was just too easy to make fun of, and that urge turned me into a technology idiot!

AOL of yore : web browser :: iTunes : Songbird

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Someone mentioned to me today that if the web were like you could only connect to, which reminded me of speculation that earlier aggressive intellectual protectionism online could have led to a proprietary cul de sac in online services. In that post I said without explanation that aggressive protectionism is being allowed to kill or stunt online music.

People have been noting for awhile that protectionism enabled iTunes’ dominance, or as Techdirt put it “How The Recording Industry’s Obsession On DRM Made Apple So Powerful.”

iTunes’ dominant lock-in will end soon enough, that is unless we get some additional very bad copyright rulings and laws.

A nice quote that brings the general web and online music analogy full circle is this from Ross Karchner commenting on Songbird:

It’s like taking iTunes, ripping out the music store, and replacing it with the rest of the internet.

I’ll take the rest of the internet.

Check out the just released Songbird 0.2, which despite the low version number I find very usable.

Addendum 20061020: Ironically for me the company behind Songbird is called Pioneers of the Inevitable.

Day against DRM

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Today is ‘s “day against DRM.” says:

There is no more important cause for electronic freedoms and privacy than the call for action to stop DRM from crippling our digital future. The time is now.

The first bit is hyperbole, but you could cover fighting DRM and several related causes by taking the opportunity to join the EFF or FSF.

I don’t have anything new to say about DRM, so see Digital Rent-a-Center Management from June.

Download DRM-free music.

Pig assembler

Friday, July 21st, 2006

The story of The Pig and the Box touches on many near and dear themes:

  • The children’s fable is about DRM and digital copying, without mentioning either.
  • The author is raising money through Fundable, pledging to release the work under a more liberal license if $2000 is raised.
  • The author was dissuaded from using the sampling licnese (a very narrow peeve of mine, please ignore).
  • I don’t know if the author intended, but anyone inclined to science fiction or nanotech will see a cartoon .
  • The last page of the story is Hansonian.

Read it.

This was dugg and Boing Boing’d though I’m slow and only noticed on Crosbie Fitch‘s low-volume blog. None of the many commentators noted the sf/nano/upload angle as far as I can tell.

Digital Rent-a-Center Management

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

I make a brief appearance in a DRM protest video noted by Boing Boing today.

Kent Bye did a good job turning his footage into two minutes of watchable video. At least I don’t look or sound as stupid as I could or should have and his choice of backing music is good and appropriate.

One of the opposing comments on Bye’s blog:

As a consumer you have a choice of who to purchase from; and you must abide by the rules set by who you buy from. If you don’t like those rules don’t buy.

In my view the protest was about informing consumers of reasons they may want to exercise their choice to not purchase DRM content. I don’t think anyone was calling for making DRM illegal.

A brief quote about the inability to transfer rights to DRM content was also misunderstood by come commenters. The point I wanted to make is that consumers are getting a substantially different deal with DRM media than they have gotten in the past, indeed a substantially worse deal.

Only desperate or stupid consumers would lease a home theater from Rent-a-Center. DRM media should be seen in the same light.

Valleywag weighs in (flyweight!) with a sarcastic comment:

With all the hoopla in the tech world over trivia like censorship or the turning of political dissidents over to oppressive foreign governments, it’s good to know that this weekend, brave protesters picketed the San Francisco Apple store for that most basic of human rights — the right to play all kinds of music on the iPod.

Yes, plenty of room to talk with recent posts entitled ‘Google bachelor watch: Larry and Lucy “kissy-faced” in Maui’ and ‘Girl sues MySpace because boys are too hot’ … regardless, Valleywag critically misses the point that DRM and more generally copyright are free speech issues. I find the U.S. policy of encouraging intellectual protectionism abroad appalling. If you don’t think such will be used to further censorship in oppressive states (and supposedly non-oppressive ones) you are sorely lacking in the cynicism department. Go read the recent Bruce Perens essay Is DRM Just a Consumer Rights Issue?. I’ll also repeat two of my favorite sentences in the history of this blog under the subheading What Would Brezhnev Do?:

The Soviet Union took information control to extremes, including prohibiting use of photocopiers by scientists. I suspect that had the USSR survived to this day, the KGB would now be furiously trying to make Digital Restrictions Management work so as to gain access to a few of the wonders of computing without permitting open communication.

I could go on for awhile about why DRM is a bad thing, but in addition to the above I must briefly mention that DRM is deadly for long term data preservation, stifles innovation, is a security threat and doesn’t even prevent copying, the fantasy that it could with just the right legal backing leading to regulatory ratchet.

On the specifics of the Apple protest, see Seth Schoen’s writeup.

In closing, another zinger from Tim Lee:

I think the fundamental disagreement here is one about technology, not philosophy. Attaway believes that the flaws and restrictions imposed by DRM are temporary—kinks that will be worked out as more sophisticated technology is developed. If that were true, Attaway’s argument would have some merit. But the reality is just the opposite: as the media world becomes more complex, the flaws of DRM will only become more glaring. DRM is technological central planning. Centrally planned economies become less efficient as they grow more complex. For precisely the same reasons, centrally planned technologies perform worse as they become more complex.

Filesharing a waste of time

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Well over a year ago Sameer Parekh called out an obvious flaw in my argument:

I find it funny when I read technologists arguing that downloads of movies aren’t a problem because they’re slow. When do technologists talk about how technology sucks and isn’t going to improve? When the improvement of that technology hurts their public relations effort!

I noticed Parekh’s blog again recently, which reminded me to respond. I find it interesting (but somewhat tangential) that in the interim centralized web-based video “sharing” ( and many similar sites) has taken off while decentralized P2P filesharing has languished.

Anyhow, I do not argue that P2P filesharing is a waste of time merely because it takes a really long time to download a movie. Even if downloads were instantaneous the experience would be trying. Making it easy and certain for an average user to find a complete copy and find and install the video codecs to be able to watch the copy is not something that improved bandwidth will fix automatically. They are social and software problems, which tend to not improve at the rate bandwidth and similar increase.

In the future when today’s huge downloads are (nearly) instantaneous, they’ll be nearly instantaneous via underground P2P or via centralized download services. The only people who will struggle with the former are the very poor, those who enjoy fighting with their computers, and those who seriously miscalculate the value of their time. Unless the latter are encumbered with DRM so frustrating that there is no convenience advantage to using a centralized service.

By that time I expect most entertainment to be some combination of supercheap, server-mediated and advertising.

CCSSF2 with Gonze & Ostertag

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

The first Creative Commons Salon San Francisco was good, tomorrow’s should be great. Bob Ostertag and Lucas Gonze (who I’ve cited many times) are presenting. I could hardly ask for a better lineup.

Event details.

Update 20060417: Followup post on the CC blog.

It was a pleasure talking to Ostertag before the presentations got underway. Among other things I learned that Pantychrist vocalist Justin Bond has become extremely sucessful. During the presentation he said he had wanted to put his recordings in the public domain but Creative Commons seemed like a good thing to support, so he chose a license rather arbitrarily. Argh! (CC does offer a public domain dedication.) Ostertag pushed the idea that thinking in terms of “copies” is completely obsolete and more or less encouraged “piracy” — in response to a naive questioner asking if streaming and DRM together could stop copying (smiles all around). It was evident during Q&A that he had much more to say coming from a number of different angles. I look forward to reading more of his thoughts.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lucas Gonze’s presentation, though it may have been too much too fast for some people. I found the things he left out of a talk about how the net is changing music notable — nothing about DRM, streaming, P2P, music stores, or podcasting. Hear, hear!