Opening iTunes to other players

Today I found an article about Norway suing Apple because music bought in the iTunes store could not be played on a non-iPod music player. If Apple looses this legal attack, it would result in an even stranger digital rights management situation than we already have. First, let me tell you why I think the whole legal case would not be worth persuing anyway:

  1. Music bought through iTunes is in the AAC format, which is an open standard format. Any modern player is capable of playing AAC files. The “problem” lies in the way the songs are stored in an encrypted form invented by Apple, called Fairplay. Fairplay resticts the way you use and play the file, but only very limited: You can play a Fairplay encrypted file on your iPod, on up to 3 (three) authorized computers, and (here it comes) can be copied to a standard audio CD any number of times. Since when is this called “limiting”?
  2. Buying DRM music from iTunes clearly has limitations. Apple is not hiding this fact, as Microsoft is not hiding the fact that WMA has almost the same limitations. Suppose there was no workaround available and you had to play the music on your iPod, you still could not complain. You can almost describe it as not being able to play CD’s on your record player. You bough a CD, not a vinyl record, and you knew beforehand that it was not compatible with your record player.

That said, I think the root cause of these type of lawsuits is often overlooked. It’s the way people think about intelectual property and the traditional ways of selling copies where the author received a substantial part of the profits. In a digital age like ours, there is no “physical product”, which makes it very easy for me to give a file I bought to just about an individual out there, without me loosing the original file. The copies of the file are all of the same superiour quality, so re-distributing them is very interesting to anyone wanting to exchange or “trade” music.

I have allways thought of DRM of crippeling a file because people simply can not behave. The whole proces of crippeling audio and video files has just resulted in me doing the oposite of what the intent was. If I buy a DVD, I have to watch a few minutes of copyrights notices and commercials, without being able to skip them. If I rip it, and re-write it, these notices are gone, but I feel mistreated by the DVD company because I have to de-cripple my DVD’s. This makes the ripped illegal copies much more interesting for me, because regardless of the price, I can just pop in the DVD, and watch the movie, like expected.

Same goes for Audio, up to a certain point. When I buy music online, regardless if this is through the or any other WMA selling store, the store dictates the way I use the audio file. As customer, I feel like I bought a file and I can do with it what I like. As store, they sell you the rights to listen te a recording in a restricted number of ways, a restricted number of times even. That’s why I allways try to buy music on a normal audio CD. This gives me the ultimate solution to all problems:

  1. It is the original regording, in a non-lossy form. I can allways re-rip the audio in any bitrate I see fit for the purpose at hand.
  2. I allways have the original and it will last for years as reliable backup. Storing it safely in a cupboard and never using (scratching) it, it will provide me with a 100% safe backup of my digital music library on my Mac, iPod, or USB memory stick player.

If it is not possible to get the music on a normal CD, I can allways resort to people who invent products like Hymn (Hear Your Music aNywhere to remove the DRM for me. As long as I do not copy the file, I see no harm in doing this because the DRM is there to prevent me from doing things I would not easily do anyway.

I think crippeling digital content is not the way to protect their content. There will always be people finding methods around this. Furthermore, the prices are very much like the pricing of their physical counterparts, which makes fro very unatractive products. Why would I buy a lossy, digitally crippled version of an audio track I can have on a non-lossy CD for the same price (per track)? The real problem is not being able to proscecute violators of the different copyright acts in various countries. What you actually want to verify is that the user of the audio file has paid some money to the original artist(s). That’s the only problem.

What if the stores selling these audio tracks just gave every song a serial number. No DRM, just a tracking number. The store can administrate which serial number was bought by whom. By doing this, officers at my door can just extract these ID’s from my library, upload them to the store and see if I paid for them, or somebody else did. This will probably not be the case for 100% of my tracks (since somebody else could have bought it for me on another computer). To prevent overhead lets say that the law states that 80% of my bought songs should have been bought by myself. If more than 20% of my library is not accountable for, investigation is started and could result in me paying fines for every song in my library which is considered to be an “illegal copy”.

The whole sales model needs to be reinvented, and I think DRM is not the way to go. It has been around for long time, and I have never been tempted enough to buy a track, nor were any of my friends. As music stores go, the iTunes store is about the only store I *would* buy tunes from, because this guarantees me that they will be playable on my machine and my music player. Apple is very maticulate about the correct functioning of their hard and software, much more so than Microsoft or any other smack-together-a-WMA-music-store out there.

Somebody should sue CD labels for producing CDs which can not be played on a computer for exactly the same reasons as in all these other lawsuits. I bought music, and the store has no right deciding when I can do what with it or how many times (no pun intended). I understand they don’t like illegal copies, but they can not punish me for making illegal copies before actually doing so.

Maybe music should just be free alltogether, and make it “donation-ware” or something alike. Most artists make more money in a single concert than all the years CD profits. You could see the CD as a commercial. Give it away for free, print the concert dates on it and make people go to your concert!

In a way this is already what higher powers are doing for us. On every CD-writable I buy in the Netherlands, I pay a fee to buma-stemra, because I could *potentially* place (illegal) music on that CD. If I payed for it allready, then why not do it anyway? I have less and less problems with copying digital content with all these organisations charging fees and taxes for things I did not buy or am not intending to do. There was even a discussion going on about adding mp3 taxes to harddisks because you can place music in mp3 form on a harddisk. Is that sick or what?

I think the issue is covered by many others allready, and there are no new insights in this article. So I’ll just return to my iTunes library, make a few backups and hope they’ll never make playback of my tracks impossible…

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2 Responses to Opening iTunes to other players

  1. […] the way ┬áthe music and movie industry are selling us crippled content, which actually feels like punishing you for honestly buying your digital content. A month after that rant, Steve wrote a mail to the music […]

  2. […] than their DRM protected originals, which makes good willing people move to pirated content, like I stated earlier. The important sentence here being “If I buy a DVD, I have to watch a few minutes of […]

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