This is why I hate DRM

By JoCo August 17, 2005

I saw this on iPodObserver:

The Dave Matthews band has posted instructions for circumventing the DRM on their own CD. The problem is that their CD has a copy protection scheme that doesn’t allow you to just pop the CD into your computer and play it, you first have to copy the songs to Microsoft’s secure WMA format, and then play those files in the Windows Media Player (after downloading some sort of a license). Of course iTunes doesn’t support the WMA format, so you then have to burn a CD and rip it to mp3s in iTunes. Check out the ridiculously complicated process.

The stupidest thing is that you can keep all this from happening if you just hold the Shift key down when you insert the CD to temporarily disable the autorun from starting the software that keeps you from just playing the CD like a normal person. Though it’s possible that both circumvention methods are probably illegal under the DMCA. In fact, SunnComm Technologies, makers of fine copy protection software, nearly sued a graduate student under the DMCA for publishing a paper that discussed the Shift Key Method and other shortcomings of their technology. They changed their minds when they realized that was stupid.

Now I want to say “See, this is where we’re headed!” but what I really mean is “See, this is where we are!” This is happening now – your rights are being taken away by large corporate entities who don’t care about you. I am not for piracy, you really should not steal music, but this is not the solution. Like most “anti-piracy” measures, this one will not stop any pirates. But it will make it difficult for you to listen to these songs on your iPod. At best, you have to jump through a few hoops and spend another buck on a blank CD. You might even need to break the law. TO LISTEN TO A CD YOU BOUGHT WITH ACTUAL MONEY.

I don’t know why we’re not all furious about this.


John says

Sad.. sad indeed. When will the industry realize that this is just plain stupid. What hurt them more? The price fixing or the downloading? To them, we know the answer, but what is the real answer?

Now I'll just sit back and wait for the arrival of your second CD via CD Baby, after having downloaded the newer songs and enjoying them, so I went and bought them...

Duh! Stupid record labels, see that it'll work if you work WITH the customers.... *sigh*

Edminster says

Who says we aren't outraged?
Sadly, there is really nothing one can do but refuse to purchase anything using DRM, and that is not really going to hurt the record labels anyway. I propose we... crap, I hate Attention Deficit Disorder... I think my plan involved monkeys... or possibly Pie...

JoCo says

I know, a lot of people ARE outraged, which is good. But not everybody. I wish it was everybody. And one of the reasons it's so frustrating is that there isn't much you can do that feels like it's having an actual effect on anything.

P.S. Mmmm, pie.

Sarah says

I bought the most recent Ben Folds CD, Songs for Silverman (which is Dualdisc), from Amazon, and then while I was waiting for it to arrive read to my dismay that the disc wasn't going to be able to play on my computer, or be ripped so I could play the songs on my iPod.

So when it came, tried it out, confirmed it wouldn't work, and returned it to Amazon for a refund along with a scathing note telling them why I was doing it. My hope is that will filter back to the record company. Maybe that's a form of protest: to purchase and then return such CDs with explanations that the technology barriers caused us to do so?

(It's an awesome album, btw.)

JoCo says

Sarah: Fight the power! I commend you for a small but probably very satisfying piece of protest. I guess it's inevitable that as these restrictions get more and more intrusive in consumers' lives, eventually there's going to be some sort of push back. And then some sort of war waged for freedom from an underground cyberpunk city, and a tribal dance scene which I will observe from my ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, while eating a nutritive paste out of a spigot. Bring it.

James Slusher says

Fight the power, brother. Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to fight. Matter of fact, it is safe to say that they would rather switch than fight.

I think we are all furious, it is just so hard to put a face on who we are mad at, it becomes impossible to take a swipe at the object of our anger. Though Sarah's is a step in the right direction.

I take it a step further by refusing to buy cds from any major label. I buy only from independent artists. It takes more time and energy to find the music you want, but since I made that conscience decision, I have bought more cds in the past 9 months than I had in the previous decade combined. I enjoy supporting good music and it means more when I know the artist is getting the money and not some goober at Sony.

I'm hoping that we can refer to your ship as the 'Chad, because I find it impossible to pronounce otherwise.

JoCo says

Yes, that's also an excellent way to fight back. Believe it or not, I have only recently started listening to non-label artists, and really only by accident. Which is silly, because I myself am an indie artist. It just goes to show how much we actually depend on being spoonfed by the teat of corporate motherhood (how's THAT for a mixed metaphor?). Hopefully that market will grow, and generate more innovative business models as well as music.

Chad is fine. Or Neb.

rob says

The best part about this is the instructions on the Dave Matthews Band site where they blame Apple for the problems. They actually say "we encourage you to contact Apple and ask them to incorporate our [broken, proprietary, bullshit] technology into iTunes." I know Apple isn't innocent in the DRM game, but its not their fault that DMB chose Windows Media. I'm actually more likely to buy songs from iTunes these days because I know I can burn them to disc and listen to them wherever I want. Even with the DRM, I'm at least not automatically treated like a criminal. If I were Apple I'd take out a full page ad in the Times and tell the Dave Matthews Band, their record label, and SunnComm Technologies to suck it.

JoCo says

Right, as if Apple has been dragging their feet on the online music distribution front. Not like the record labels, who have been pushing the new business models and technologies all along. I also heard somewhere that DMB initially refused to put their albums on ITMS because they didn't want people to be able to buy only one song off an album. Dear DMB: All y'all dumbasses is crazy.

Christopher Davis says

Oh, the Apple ad should say one thing:

"The Sunncomm copy protection system doesn't get in your way at all...if you have a Mac."

The "bonus audio disc" in with the Dido: Live from Brixton Academy DVD? Rips fine on a Mac. The DMB CD? If you ask Sunncomm, they'll tell you "If you have a Mac computer you can copy the songs using your iTunes Player as you would normally do."

JoCo says

Yes, only because the Mac market is small enough that the labels can let it slide. Also, notice that the text in the link that Christopher provides (which is an email from Sunncomm to a user comlaining about the problem) is the EXACT SAME TEXT as what's on the Dave Matthews Band site. Creepy. Obviously, people complained to DMB who complained to the label who complained to Sunncomm who copied and pasted that helpful circumvention technique. DMB may well be surprised and embarrassed to have that idiocy on a site with their name on it.

Maybe Sunncomm should sue themselves under the DMCA.

JP says

this is sad, but I heard that Vista beta was already hacked drm free

mikejordan says


A lot has happened in the past three or four years with regards to how we obtain and listen to music hasn’t it? I am astounded at all the ways we can now enjoy our favorite artists and listen to our music.

Just in the last few years we have went from the ability to play a CD version of our song that we went to a brick and mortar store and bought to never actually owning the CD and only having an electronic version we downloaded from the Internet.

New words have shown up as well. iPod, Zune, Mp3, wma, DRM. These words meant virtually nothing 10-15 years ago.

Technology is always changing , sometimes for the better and sometimes not. The only thing you can say about it is that it will change. The rub and what sets new technology apart from the old technology is whether or not you choose to accept it.

Here’s a story to illustrate my point. Back in the good old days ( the late seventies) my Dad had what was considered by our family to be the schniz-nizzle of all music playing equipment. He owned a slick looking , encased in Aluminum, suitcase style, reel to reel sound system. You remember those don’t you? You used to see them all the time in movies and James Bond type flicks of the day. I think they illustrated the point that you were sophisticated and cool if you owned one of these devices. He would sit down and fire that bad boy up and you would have thought Walt Disney or Gunsmoke was on TV. Everybody would stop what they were doing and migrate into the front room with Dad and sit quietly while he fiddled with it trying to get the tape loaded onto the pickup reel correctly. I think we were all silently hoping he had some new music for it, however usually it was more of the same and the speakers he had at the time were pretty low class, but being kids , we didn’t know any better. Then he would get it right and out would come the lovely strains of another John Phillips Sousa march of some kind. (Kids silently depart the room.) Mom wanders back to her kitchen and puzzles or whatever. Dad gets lost in thoughts of Andrews sisters or Benny Goodman or some such topical reference. Seemed then like the machine was the point and the music was pretty much secondary.

I never did have any interest in those contraptions once I turned into a long haired hippie freak teenager. They may have been cool, but you couldn’t carry it around with you and impress girls with it so what was the point. Hell that’s all I cared about at the time.

Then along came the 8 track tape player. Now this was COOL. I could have the worst Junker of a car imaginable yet because I had a 8 track tape player (a miniature version of the reel to reel player I was to find out later) I could drive around and girls would be able to hear my music on my stereo in my car (away from my parents) and maybe , just maybe if I played the right Bee-Gees song, I would get lucky.

The only problem was it got old quick playing the same music over and over again in the same order. I spent a lot of money buying the latest K-Tell tape to play in that thing. Then something pretty interesting happened. That technology pretty much died a quick death. One day I was bopping along buying and playing 8 tracks and the next something called “CD’s” were all the rage. Or so it seems now in retrospect. Truth is it probably took a few years to change , but in my youth then and my older age now it seems like it was instantaneous. Same with 45’s, LP albums and Cassettes. Here one day and gone tomorrow.

Everything about all of this makes perfect sense to me except for one small thing. I don’t get and no matter how hard I try, I will never understand downloaded, DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected, subscription music. iPod by Apple and their iTunes store technology along with Microsoft and their new Zune would have you believe that it makes perfect sense to buy your tracks 99 cents at a time.

This is the big lie. It really doesn't make any logical sense at all. I guess you could say it is also the newest imperfect technology. Read on and I'll give you my opinion why it appears to be a rip-off. At least to me.

You see the trick of the game they play on you without telling you, is you never really own the songs. You never have full control over what you do with them. You really didn’t ever “buy” them. They want you to think you did, but you didn’t.

Consider the following scenario. You download a song on the subscription model (that they lie to you about and favorably compare to being about the same as having a cable TV account).

Say you use iTunes and download a song to your iPod. Can you play it on any other player? Nope. Can you play it on any other computer? Nope. What is the chance you would be able to get it back in playing condition if your computer crashed? Maybe. Depends on if you used a service that is still in business.

Now ask yourself these basic questions.

Do I have all of these restrictions on Cable TV (The model they always compare DRM too, like cable TV ?) Well I don't know, Lets see.

Will cable play on any other TV ? Yeah, Pretty much. Cable doesn’t care what player (TV) is being used. If your cable service goes out during a storm does it come back and just work? Yeah, again, pretty much. Unless the line got torn down, in which case it’ll be back in a day or two once they fix it. No action required on your part , except to pay the bill. Can I record my TV show and play it back on pretty much any television? You ever heard of a VCR? Or a DVR? Or a Tivo? No brainer if you ask me.

You see what you are actually doing with DRM protected music is not buying it. You are not “subscribing” to it. You never, ever really own it, unless you burned it immediately to CD. You will not be able to store it forever and ever and play it when ever you want to 25 years from now. You are leasing it (maybe renting is a better analogy, because like renting a house, when you stop paying for it, you have to give it up) . It will always belong to the place or company who provided the DRM technology in the first place, because the company who supplied it to you controls everything you can do with it.

You don’t believe me ? Stop paying your subscription bill and see what happens to your ability to play the music you have already “paid” for.

Now consider what happened to the 8 track player.

When you buy a new computer, how will you access your DRM , subscribed music? Better yet, Can you access it? Can you play it? (The answer here is maybe, but probably not, depending on how technically capable you are, how well you understand licensing and how well you can follow complicated instructions) What happens if your hard drive crashed?

The answer usually is pretty much the same no matter what the problem or question is.

Sorry about your luck pal, you must start over. Your problem, not ours. Sucks to be you.

This is why I don’t get it. If my CD player dies, I just buy another one. Poof , instant music.

If my generic mP3 player dies, I just get another one. Poof, instant music.

If my subscription dies, not Poof, Not instant music.

If my computer dies, not Poof, not instant music.

I have a lot of music. I own every bit of it. I bought every CD. I can burn as many legal copies of it as I want to.

The difference is in how you perceive ownership. When I own it, it is mine to do with what I want, within reason.

Same as owning a book. I can’t copy it and sell it because I would be breaking a perfectly reasonable copyright law. With , DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected music, I can only do what they say I can do with it and then only as long as the technology still works as intended. The decision is never mine to make, so I can't break the law, even if I wanted to. And to top it off they can change the rules later after I paid for it.

This concept is called self determination. If I can't decide to abide by the law and can't decide to break it, then I don't own it. If I can't make any decisions about how I can choose to use it, then it is not my product nor is it my choice. Certainly there are ways around this, however every one of them involves a massive compromise, either in the sound quality or the legality.

I’ll be surprised is this is the answer to file sharing. I can’t imagine that this idiocy will still be around in 10 years. Too many flaws. Too many restrictions. Too many problems.

Too much crap to put up with. Who wants to own a music time share?

Music sales are down because of DRM not in spite of it.