Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The 2005 DRM war

2005 will probably be remembered as the year of the Grokster and KaZaa cases, but there is something more important happening. It is the year of the DRM wars. Digital Rights Management has always been a controversial subject, with a very outspoken camp against it (and it has even been declared illegal in France). But now many claim that DRM is part of a dirty war, not against P2P and music downlaoders, but against the competition.

The problem is that Sony Music is releasing music CDs that are using a specific brand of DRM that cannot be played by iTunes and cannot be ripped into an iPod. This has upset a large number of iPod users, but most importantly, many claim that this is being done without the authorization of the artists. For example, read this amazing tale of one CD in The Big Picture blog. The most amazing part of the story is that the DRM company is willing to publicize the instructions to circumvent the DRM by email! These are:

"If you have a PC place the CD into your computer and allow the CD to automatically start. If the CD does not automatically start, open your Windows Explorer, locate the drive letter for your CD drive and double-click on the LaunchCD.exe file located on your CD.
Once the application has been launched and the End User License Agreement has been accepted, you can click the Copy Songs button on the top menu.
Follow the instructions to copy the secure Windows Media Files (WMA) to your PC. Make a note of where you are copying the songs to, you will need to get to these secure Windows Media Files in the next steps.
Once the WMA files are on your PC you can open and listen to the songs with Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher. You may also play them in any compatible player that can play secure Windows Media files, such as MusicMatch, RealPlayer, and Winamp, but it will require that you obtain a license to do so. To obtain this license, from the Welcome Screen of the user interface, click on the link below the album art that says If your music does not play in your preferred player, click here. Follow the instructions to download the alternate license. PLEASE NOTE: This license is only necessary for playing the copied songs in a media player other than iTunes or Windows Media Player. If you are just trying to use iTunes, simply continue with these instructions.
Using Windows Media Player only, you can then burn the songs to a CD. Please note that in order to burn the files, you need to upgrade to or already have Windows Media Player 9 or greater.
Once the CD has been burned, place the copied CD back into your computer and open iTunes. iTunes can now rip the songs as you would a normal CD."

To make the story worse, now there are claims that Sony's DRM is a rootkit, something akin to a Trojan Horse virus that can be used to gain access to the system.

From the amount of DRM-related stories in the tech press, I would say that Sony has a potential PR disaster on their hands. With trend-setters up in arms about the attack to their precious iPods, I cannot see how the music industry will be able to continue to make the case for DRM.

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