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There's a noose in the hoose – iTunes shoppers discover DRM


If Jon Johansen - who goes on trial again later today in Norway - had the intention of raising public awareness of Locked Music when he posted his DRM crack for iTunes, he's certainly achieved it now, we reckon.

Johansen posted his code on Friday a week ago, but the discussions were rumbling on well into Thanksgiving: the remarkable thing being how people who had happily bought iTunes music without realizing that they were guinea pigs for a much larger social engineering experiment were now cottoning on. What seemed like a friction-free source of happiness one day, looked like a noose the next.

How so?

Well, by observing the time honored BBC tradition - that there are only two, and never more than two sides to an argument - Apple's alliance with the RIAA has been welcomed in the public prints as an honest compromise. On one side, there are P2P file swappers, on the other, are the pigopolists who want to lock down your music forever.

It's an appealing, but absurd reduction, however; one that's flawed by the amount of ideology that's already baked-in to the argument. As Register readers pointed out, the issue is one of who owns, or has rights to use our common culture. That means stuff we created ourselves, and only we can decide is worth sharing. And as many of you pointed out, what we call the "entertainment industry" today is merely a distributor, much like the Victorian canal owners were in the last century, in Britain. The smarter Bridgewaters bought into the upcoming railways, while the dumber canal owners didn't, and died a natural death. Today's pigopolists don't "own" the culture simply by claiming that their exclusivity is based on technology - that's a social contract we don't buy, and history, in most cases, is on our side.

So for Apple to pop up and grant the dying RIAA members a $99c toll on each song - when the distribution costs are zero, and when the RIAA is so manifestly corrupt - is a pill many find hard to swallow.

Many times before, we've compared the social shift that DRM implies to putting your head in a noose, and waiting for someone else to tighten the rope. Until this year, the computer industry had refused to succumb to these terms. Now, in response to sugar-coated schemes such as iTMS, and its many copyists, Johansen put the opposing arguments pretty eloquently on his weblog, last week -

"By buying into DRM they have given the seller complete control over the product after it's been sold," he wrote. "The RIAA can at any time change the DRM rules, and considering their history it's likely that they will when the majority of consumers have embraced DRM and non-DRM products have been phased out. Some DVDs today include commercials which can't be skipped using 'sanctioned' players. If the RIAA forces Apple to include commercials, what excuses will the Mac zealots come up with? 'It's a good compromise'?"

Buyer, seller. Owner, controller. Which bit don't you understand? By Thanksgiving, many erstwhile iTunes shoppers were waking up to the cold realities. So let the iTunes shoppers speak.

'hmari99' put it nicely.

"WOW. I didn't read the whole thread (but most of it) and this one opinion makes the most sense. It's about fair use. It's about using what you bought in any way you want (within the bounds of the law, which is much broader than what iTunes lets you do)

Applied to a physical media (aka a stipid CD) the idea of the DRM is this: You can play the CD on three designated CD players that support the DRM. Like, it will play ONLY on xyz brand cd player and only three of those that you pick. Yes, you have to stick to that brand of cd player (the iTunes player, the supported OS of iTunes, no unix support in sight) and too bad if you have a fourth one in the bedroom. It's not gonna play in your second car's player either. Nor in the kitchen. Nor on your neighbor's player. Nor can you trade it on the used market when you're tired of listening to it.

Yes consumers would be outraged. QTFairuse is definitely a good thing for fair use and might be a bad one for piracy (not too sure it'll make a difference though)

Good argument about no manufacturing costs, no distribution cost, no cut for the middle man, no best buy, no tower records no Borders to pay a cut.

They finally found a way to sell you some wind. Even better, they will restrict the direction and force in wich the wind will blow, how often and where it will happen. And people are buying it!"

That's a lot of wind.

And in answer to the small tribe of Apple Taliban who argued that the analog hole was already open, "StoneRoses" argued thus -

"A lot of people still don't know the diffence between DRM strip-off (QTFair use) and reencoding (burn CD -> Aiff -> AAC). For 128kbps range, the degradation when you decode - reencode is significant."

Nary a day goes by, here at The Register without a classical music buff arguing that iTMS is not a viable option: the richness and vibrancy of the art, the atmosphere of that unique performance, cannot be conveyed in a hissy 160kbps locked file. We must reluctantly conclude that you guys are on to something.

User "fzappa" is but one who has woken up to the limitations of the RIAA-Apple pact, and explains the economics of the deal succinctly -

"I'm glad to see the system is being challenged, not being a user of ITunes I didn't realize there were copying limitations on the files. For the life of me I can't figure out why on earth ANYONE would be willing to spend $1.00 per song and get nothing more than a file. This seems to me that the consumer is being screwed royally by the RIAA. It works like this: I end up paying $15-20 dollars for a CD and get no physical product. The record company gets to sell it for the same price but pays nothing for manufacturing and distribution. No middle men to speak of, the public gets hosed. But that's what they've been doing for years anyway. Just curious, does the artists cut increase with online distribution? Support the artists but boycott the RIAA and overpriced online music."

But thanks to the connivance of get-rich-quick computer companies, who have this year tried to market DRM, the dying industries have an opportunity: not only to control the distribution of popular culture, but of course its price, too. And remember, most of that $99c goes back to the pigopolists. Even seasoned music industry executives are championing models that allow music to be shared, and that give the artists their fair due. The Apple-RIAA pact closes such arguments, both parties argue, all in the sake of 'convenience'.

But at what cost does this convenience come?

For a Steve Jobs, relaxing in his Austin Powers Peninsular pad, downloading Fleetwood Mac from one expensive gadget to another expensive gadget must seem the very embodiment of friction-free futurism. Bully for him. But for readers such as Gene Mosher, enjoyment of our culture represents a very inconvenience. Let's hear it in full, once again -

My great grandfather was born in 1870. He learned to build crystal radio sets to listen to the earliest radio broadcasts in the 1920's. He would invite the whole town of about 500 over to listen to them.

My grandfather was born in 1899. He purchased one of the earliest tape recorders to make copies of radio broadcasts for his friends in the late 1950s.

My dad was born in 1924. He had a collection of 78's that he passed around for many years until he died last year.

And now I am using the Internet to assemble an MP3 collection of all the tunes on all those LPs, cassette tapes and CD's that I've been buying since 1959.

I'll be damned in hell before I accept the notion that I and my ancestors who love to listen to the audio arts are in any sense guilty of anything that is illegal, wrong, evil, immoral or improper.

iTunes shoppers have discovered the DRM noose - and it doesn't quite seem to fit. ®

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