Apple’s DRM Announcement

Eliminate DRM!
Originally uploaded by nim.

Apple announced that they’ll be offering DRM-free music in the iTunes Music Store! I don’t have much to add to the announcement, I’m just ecstatic that Apple is following up on Steve Job’s open letter. Beyond just offering DRM-free music, Apple even addressed Cory Doctorow’s lock-in argument by offering upgrades to existing downloads.

There were people who thought that the letter was a cynical attempt to avoid EU regulation by playing DRM off as a chain imposed by the record companies. I admit that I was leaning that way, it’s not the first time I was wrong about Apple and probably not the last. Like other doubters, I’m glad I was wrong.

I don’t really have much to add to the conversation, I’m just excited to download more music from iTunes in May (and this time I plan to keep it).

Minorities in Libraries

I was at the Scholarship and Libraries in Transition on Friday, a symposium on how mass digitization affects libraries. I’m not a librarian but Tim O’Reilly was keynoting and since I’m not going to ETech or SXSW this year, it was a decent consolation prize.

One thing I noticed was the sheer number of Macs in the audience. I sat with Ed Vielmetti and met Bill and Barbara Tozier, all of whom had their iBooks with them. The local digerati weren’t anomalies; I would guess that the audience was about 40% Mac.

As an aside, the Toziers are involved with Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreaders which is the Web 2.0 version of Google’s digitization project. Instead of a centralized effort to digitize books, DP pushes the work to the edges.

Back to my point and inflammatory title, a recent question on Ask MetaFilter was a survey on libraries offering free audiobooks. I thought it was interesting that there were so many Macs in the audience because, as I commented, my library offers audiobook downloads but because I’m on a Mac and have an iPod they’re useless to me.

I’m not bashing (well, not librarians). I realize that there’s a ton of licensing bullshit that goes into getting audiobooks into a downloadable format, and somewhere in the chain there’s someone for whom no DRM is a deal-breaker. I guess I’m just hopeful that if enough librarians are using Macs and can’t take advantage their own libraries online services that DRM will become a deal-breaker.

Personal to Kenyatta: Yes I still plan on writing a full library post.

BitTorrent, Trademarks and Crypto

BitTorrent™ is suing several spyware companies over trademark infringement. They want to keep spyware/adware companies from banking on their name, which is perfectly understandable. P2P companies need to be extra-sensitive to this, considering the abomination of adware Kazaa was.

Here’s what has me paranoid, though. µTorrent and other 3rd party clients are encrypting the protocol. Bram Cohen does not think the protocol should be encrypted. Will BitTorrent™ file trademark suits against 3rd party developers that implement features that BitTorrent™ doesn’t like?

The Anti-Darknet

Lucas Gonze pinged me with a good mental framework for our current moral crises over file sharing, DRM and all that other stuff that makes me tired from being so angry. I’m answering my email in my blog.

Four researchers at Microsoft coined the term “Darknet” in their 2002 paper The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution. Put briefly (and largely incorrectly), people copy things privately on Darknets, whether over IRC or IM or trading DVD-Rs.

Lucas looks at the flip side: Lightnet.

He cites as examples of the Darknet WinMX, Kazaa, Napster and iTunes. All of which are closed systems that you can’t go on national TV and say “here, have this.” The first two because most users are infringing on someone’s copyright, the last two because the music is locked up in DRM.

The current state of copyright infringement reminds me of prohibition-era drinking: a lot of people doing it but there’s no constructive conversation.

Lucas also identifies lightnet systems: Creative Commons, Magnatune, Our Media, etc. This is lightnet media, something you link to, use, shuffle around and share. Not necessarily something that is under a CC license, but something that I can post a link on my blog and say OMG PUNK RAWK!

The free software community has built a viable ecology on lightnet software. Lucas is consuming lightnet media. I think that’s pretty cool.

See also:
Mike Linksvayer: Redefining light and dark
Eli Chapman: Lucas’ lightnet vs. darknet

Why you weren’t protected from Sony

In an article for Wired News, Bruce Schneier asks:

What do you think of your antivirus company, the one that didn’t notice Sony’s rootkit as it infected half a million computers?

Mr. Schneier’s readers answered him:

Many readers pointed out to me that the DMCA is one of the reasons antivirus companies aren’t able to disable invasive copy-protection systems like Sony’s rootkit: it may very well be illegal for them to do so. (Adam Shostack made this point.)

Isn’t it great that we live in a country that not only has the DMCA, but is actively exporting it? Aren’t you glad companies like Sony have laws like the DMCA; laws that keep you from protecting yourself against them? The best part is that people are generally fine with it as long as it fights “piracy,” but DRM has nothing to do with piracy!

If you want to know how we got to the point where Sony is taking complete control of your computer, look at why bad laws like the DMCA’s anticircumvention section are around.

Update 2005-11-23: Curious how other parts of the DMCA are being used? Boing Boing summarizes a study from the Chilling Effects Project. Turns out a lot of DMCA requests are bullshit. I know mine was. I publicly announced that I would participate in Grey Tuesday, and then publicly backed down when someone pointed out my hypocrisy. I still got a DMCA takedown notice, despite not having infringed any copyright. It isn’t surprising that mine wasn’t an isolated incident, but it does piss me off.

Google vs. Book Monopolists

In an article on Google’s efforts to scan books USA Today highlights part of what’s wrong with the US copyright law:

Richard Hull, executive director of the Text and Academic Authors Association, called Google’s approach backwards. Publishers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of record-keeping, agreed Sanfilippo, the Penn State press’s marketing and sales director.

“We’re not aware of everything we’ve published,” Sanfilippo said. “Back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, there were no electronic files for those books.”

Memo to Richard Hull: Google is forwards, you are backwards. Why do you care if Google makes a few sentences from books you’ve never heard of available? If you’re really all that concerned with keeping control of those books, you would have kept track of them. In a sane system you have to actually know what work you’re protecting the copyright of. You can’t just say “well, I don’t remember my copyright work and can’t show any infringement, but dammit they better stop because they might infringe on my copyright!”

Our current copyright law gives a monopoly to people who don’t even want one thanks to the US Copyright Act of 1976. Why are we giving monopolies of human knowledge to absentee landlords who can’t be bothered to keep track of their work, but who freak out at the possibility that their long-forgotten work might be used without their permission?

Open Questions for the Piracy Czar

The US has created a position in our Department of Commerce called the Coordinator for International Intellectual
Property Enforcement
. In short, a Piracy Czar. From what I’ve read the person will be in charge of a war on piracy.

On The Long Tail blog, Wired editor Chris Anderson writes I was chatting with a former Microsoft manager the other day and he revealed that after much analysis Microsoft had realized that some piracy is not only inevitable, but could actually be economically optimal. Read the whole post for the explanation.

On the Piracy Czar’s press release this figure is touted: U.S. companies alone lose an estimated $250 billion per year [to copyright infringement], costing 750,000 American jobs. That’s a lot of money and jobs, but does that count the money the was made from copyright infringement by companies like Microsoft? Is anyone even keeping track of how much money companies earn from copyright infringement?

In the show On The Media host Brooke Gladstone discusses mixtapes with writer Oliver Wang. Oliver says

Most mixtapes are still technically illegal ones because they’re not using materials that have been cleared and have been paid for. But it’s an understanding between the label that if we give you this and you help promote our song, the labels are willing to look the other way.

The same recording industry that is at war with its customers is encouraging piracy as a promotional tool.

Will the Piracy Czar try to stop mixtapes, when the record labels that own the songs actually encourage their copying? How can the RIAA indicate which songs are OK to copy onto mixtapes and which songs are forbidden to copy? (hint)

The BBC is changing its business model after it received a ‘wake-up call’ about the demand for new technology in March when the first episode of the new Doctor Who was leaked on to the internet.

The constitutional purpose of copyright is to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. Progress in the BBC’s delivery system is coming about because of copyright infringement, not in spite of it. When progress and copyright are in conflict, which side will the Piracy Czar be on?

The creation of a Piracy Czar post heralds a US “war on piracy.” Will it be an blind war against any copyright infringement, or will the harms and benefits to society be carefully weighed?

Comcast Privacy

Did you hear the one about the lawsuit over Big Copyright wanting personal information from an ISP? No, it’s not RIAA v. Verizon; a woman is suing Comcast because they shared her personal information with the RIAA, and they did so without even waiting for a court order.

In the short term you can prevent this by calling Comcast (1-800-266-2278 or 1-800-Comcast) and asking them to make the information on your account private. I just did it, and like a Slashdot commenter says it was fairly painless (once I got through the phone tree hell).

In the long term, you have to hope the woman wins so that companies aren’t ready to give our information to anyone who asks. Even if that does happen, it’s going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Just look at what’s already out there.

Features lost in iTunes upgrades

hymnIt seems every new version of iTunes removes some feature in the interest of Apple’s suppliers. Are Apple’s customers filing bug reports saying “please make your program not work with my other programs” and “please let me do less with my music”? Is DRM a dealbreaker for the music industry? If people demanded that their music work with every music player, would the music industry respond by stopping production and sales of music?

Here’s my list of features that have been removed from iTunes:

Removes support for people who browse their music across subnets. (Workaround)
Lowered the number of times you can burn a playlist with iTMS music from 10 to 7. They did this post facto, which is a snobby way of saying that Apple changed the deal after they got your money. People paid them for a song that could be burned 10 times, and Apple changed that to 7 after they had people’s money. Not to get too geeky (in a post on DRM and copyright? OK, too late) but this Star Wars quote seems appropriate: I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.
Removes Hymn 0.6.1 compatibility. Hymn 0.6.1 left the Apple ID in songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store to encourage people not to share music (since it could be traced back to them).

Apple had a choice to make: they could ignore this and let people de-cripple their music onymously or they could lock out music that had been de-crippled but could be tracked back to the owner. If they chose the latter there were two possible outcomes. The first was that the people who had broken every bit of DRM to date wouldn’t be able to remove an ID they were purposefully leaving in and Hymn would stop being able to de-cripple music, or people would start sharing de-crippled iTMS songs anonymously. Guess which Apple chose and guess what happened.

Removes iPod Download compatibility. (More on this and a workaround)
Limit to the number of people who can access iTunes shared music each day.
Removes JHymn 0.6.3 compatibility.

As a slight aside, I no longer have faith that people will recognize that DRM is harming them. I made a post over at PVRblog about TiVo Desktop 2.1, which goes to great lengths to tell people how they should watch their TiVoToGo files. If you look through the comments you’ll see lots of people who buy the line that they need to be protected from themselves, and that the media companies would walk away from a US$660 million market if it weren’t for DRM.

Not that DRM was ever a market issue, but I don’t believe consumers will stand up and ask why the music they pay for won’t play in an iPod and a Rio. I haven’t given up the copyfight, but the general public believes the lie that Big Copyright gets to tell companies and people what they can and can’t do. It depresses me when I think about all the great works that will be lost or never created. Anyway, leave any features lost in iTunes upgrades that I missed in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Lessig on C-Span

Lawrence Lessig, fresh off his gig as Christopher Lloyd on West Wing, will be on C-Span Thursday, March 3rd 2005 as part of its Digital Future series. Spread the word.

Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, is the author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, published by Basic Books. He is an expert on the issues of copyright and “copyleft.” He is the inventor of the revolutionary concept and application Creative Commons, which invites the right to use material under specific conditions.

The series “Managing Knowledge and Creativity in a Digital Context” will examine how the digital age is changing the most basic ways information is organized and classified. The goal is to educate the public on what the digital age means to their lives. The events will include a featured speaker, followed by a panel discussion, and a question and answer session with the audience at the venue, and C-SPAN television viewers who submit questions to the experts by electronic mail at

[TiVo Link]