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Thursday, May 20, 2004

PlayFair and the iPod Lock-In

Since Bryan posted his take on DRM, here I go with mine. For the most part, I agree with those who believe that utilities, such as PlayFair (renamed hymn), which strip DRM are going to kill what Apple is doing for us. But then there’s the other side of the coin. It may be true that the fine print of buying a song from the iTunes Music Store specifically states that, by purchasing the music, you are agreeing to the license and that you will not attempt to break the DRM. But Jobs himself told Rolling Stone essentially the opposite, saying that people want their digital music to be just like LPs and CDs. As we all know, you can pretty near do whatever you want with physical albums. Jobs’ comments would seem to imply that we should have the same capabilities with digital purchases.

This little soapbox moment was inspired by a Technovia posting. Here’s the key part of its argument in favor of DRM stripping:

“…while [PlayFair—renamed hymn] strips out the DRM, it leaves [your] Apple ID…in the file. If you’re stupid enough to put it on a peer-to-peer service, Apple could simply prosecute you. As the author of the software puts it: ‘I don’t believe the majority of the people…will use [hymn to] share their files on Kazaa, especially since their Apple ID is embedded in the files. Anyway, in order to use my program, you had to pay for music on the iTunes Music Store to begin with.’ Amen to that. So here we have Apple attempting to suppress a tool which allows people who’ve bought music from the iTunes store to use the music on any platform, while fingerprinting each file so it could be traced to them, making it effectively useless for piracy.… Apple is trying to keep on the good side of the RIAA. But, again, given that hymn makes it easy for the RIAA to trace pirates, that reason doesn’t really hold water.”

The author goes on to explain why Apple doesn’t like utilities like hymn. Simply put, stripping DRM permits playing purchased iTMS songs on other portable devices. Since it’s obvious Apple’s money-maker is iPod sales—not music sales—anything that could encourage people to buy something other than an iPod is a Bad Thing.™

So there you have it. The author of PlayFair—er, hymn—truly is trying to be a good sport about this and is, well, playing fair. Yet Apple’s probable stance about iPod sales is equally valid. Where’s the balance?

I’ll tell you where the balance is. You’ve probably seen reports earlier this year that online downloads don’t appear to be harming the record industry. That’s because, in spite of the convenience and attractive price of legal downloads, enough people are still interested in physical CDs for a variety of reasons. Indeed, just yesterday I bought a CD of Alanis Morissette’s latest album. Some people say they buy into what artists call the “experience” of the CD—the complete collection as an album, the artwork, the booklet, etc. I get that. There’s also the fact that a lot of CDs contain multimedia that you don’t get by purchasing the songs from iTMS. I have three additional tracks I was able to convert to AAC from Alanis’ album that I would not have if I bought only the 10 tracks from iTMS. (For those who care, I’m referring to the sessions@AOL versions of Eight Easy Steps and Excuses which are not—yet?—on iTMS, and an acoustic version of This Grudge.)

I think the same could be true with portable players. Apple seems to think that the iPod is a superior device to anything else that’s out there. Personally, I agree with that assessment. If it’s really true, then the iPod sales shouldn’t suffer too much if people had the option of using another device. I believe the iPod is a good enough product that people will buy it for what it is—not because it’s the only thing that will play iTMS purchases.

I’m not particularly interested in using another device. I love my iPod. My interest in hymn lies with being able to play all my music to a Squeezebox. Right now, protected AACs are incompatible. Someone please tell me how being able to stream my iTunes-purchased music to a Squeezebox violates DRM?

» Posted by ALBj at 11:57 PM (ET)
Category: Mac

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