DRM is bad for the customer

by Volker Weber

A friend has lost her hard disk. Windows will not boot anymore and it appears the drive is badly damaged. I will be able to rescue roughly 10000 files with a total 9 gig of data from the disk. Amongst that data is a bunch of files from the iTunes Music Store. Of course she has not made CD copies and since we won't be able to de-authorize her iTunes installation she also just lost another "license" to play the music she paid for. This is actually the second such incident, so we are getting closer to the point where she won't be able to play her music again.

Please take this as a reminder: Remove DRM from your files now. You will otherwise lose them. Guaranteed.

Update: Read the comments. It appears you can reset your authorizations in the iTMS. This does not really change my point of view. We need open formats, not closed ones. You can still play CDs you bought 20 years ago. Will that apply to DRMed AACs?

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Comments

I feel like bashing iTMS is barking up the wrong tree. Regarding DRM I think we should rather spend our time discussing the DVB broadcast flag equivalent currently in disscusion in the european comitees or other scary stuff, instead of bashing the most liberal music service.

But yes, making backups is obviously a good idea. I keep both a m4p and a cdda backup of my songs. Oh and by the way: If you used up all your authorizations you can reset your account.

Martin Pittenauer, 2005-06-30 16:08

Martin, you can feel about iTMS any way you want. What I advocate to do is to remove the DRM immediately after you received a song you just bought. Burn to CD and rip back in as MP3. You will never have any difficulties with a standard MP3 file.

Volker Weber, 2005-06-30 16:31

I heard from several cases, where people (using a Mac) de-authorized their computer from the iTMS after they sold it... You have to use the hotline, though...

Dirk Olbertz, 2005-06-30 16:38

The problem w/ your approach is that it's seen from the eyes of an honest person. In that light, DRM is "bad" in the sense that it adds a bit of complexity to your life.

In reality, DRM is the tool that allowed Apple to bring us the iTMS, so to me, it's "good". Without DRM, none of the record labels would EVER have signed on w/ Apple.

There's no right or wrong side to this issue, just the reality of what Apple and the record companies face: people are dishonest.

I see your point, and agree that it's more convenient for me to have un-encrypted files on my HDD, but I think it's irresponsible to start advocating the removal of DRM on a site that gets as much traffic as yours does. It's a necessary tool that Apple has to employ to continue bringing us the music store. What you do w/ your files once you get them onto your own machine ought to be kept quiet, I think.

Thom Rosario, 2005-06-30 16:42

DRM, in it's current forms, is simply bullshit. When I buy a song, I should be able to play it on any device that I want. I shouldn't be tied into one thing.

If I buy an iTMS song, I should be able to listen to it on my iPod, any computer I own (and I own a LOT) My TiVo streaming, burned to a CD, on an IRiver player etc...

The fact that I can't buy a Napster song and play it on iTunes, or vice-versa is insane. Imagine if there was no DVD standard. You could get movies from 5-10 different companies, but you would need a separate DVD player for each. It sucks, plain and simple.

DRM (especially without one standard) does absolutely nothing to stop real criminals. All it does is make it harder for honest people to enjoy their music.

I applaud Volker for advocating the removal of DRM, and I'll take it a step father. Download JHymn and rip the DRM right off the tracks. No need to burn and re-rip...

-John Roling
aka Greyhawk68

John Roling, 2005-06-30 16:53

Thom, I have heard this argument often enough. I think it is kind of moot to discuss whether DRM serves the record industry or Apple. It certainly does not serve the customers and I would argue it serves Apple just as well as the record industry.

Since it is perfectly legal to burn a CD and rip it back in I suggest you do that. For instance it gives you the added benefit that you are not locked into Apple's products. You can burn an MP3 CD that your car stereo can play.

You start by setting the import preferences to MP3 instead of AAC. Thus all the files you rip from the CDs you already paid for (and there are hundreds of those sitting in my CD changer end up in a format that you can use in any device you see fit.

MP3 is the lingua franca of music today. Use it.

Volker Weber, 2005-06-30 16:57

John mentioned JHymn... has anyone been brave enough to upgrade to iTunes 4.9 and see if JHymn still works OK? :o)

Ben Poole, 2005-06-30 17:57

If these bastards had their way we'd have RFID chips in out ears, and DRM'd music would only work with headphones that are synced to that chip....no speakers, someone might hear something they didn't pay for!

Brian Benz, 2005-06-30 18:04

John -- comparing music to video has a slight, often overlooked difference: it's not nearly as *quick* to share full-sized dvd movies. Once bandwidth catches up to the point that I can download a movie (~700MB) as quickly as a typical mp3 (~3MB), someone will come out w/ an iTMS for movies, and they'll have to DRM those, as well. Your argument that there's a common standard for dvds is valid, but it's only so because it's been several years in the making: format wars always have, and will be part of emerging technologies.

I also don't think it's fair to characterize DRM-encoded songs as harder to enjoy for consumers -- I simply buy them and play them. It's not *that* hard. It's not as easy as playing unencoded mp3's for certain, but it's not hard.


Volker -- I choose to use AAC because it's also a standard, and seems likely to be around for a while. While some people will argue that AAC sounds better, let's be honest: compressed music being played on an iPod in little, tiny ear-bud speakers isn't going to sound great w/ either format. For me, I don't care whether the songs are MP3 or AAC -- digital music is all about convenience and portability. Since the iPod's such a nice device, I've never bothered to try another media player, so the encryption doesn't make any difference to me.

What surprises me is how vocal people are about this topic: Apple's DRM doesn't seem all that restrictive to me.

Thom Rosario, 2005-06-30 18:38

Thom, I heard that AAC is a standard.

However, I have a bunch of devices that play MP3: A DVD player, an MP3 player, a couple of phones, amongst them a Treo 650. Incidentally none of them plays AAC. And of course none of them plays a DRMed file.

Yes, I also have an iPod. Which incidentally also plays MP3. Neat, eh?

Volker Weber, 2005-06-30 19:15

I don't have an iPod, I don't use iTunes (yes I am a caveman) and I don't use any software for getting MP3s illegally (in fact there are no MP3s on my machine), I just buy old fashioned CDs and play them in the CD player.

There is one thing more than anything that makes me hate the music industry (not just the manufactured pre-processed performers), and it's the bloody packaging, If they made it as easy to open a CD case as it is to download Kazaa etc. they might have a little less illegal copying, seriously has anyone ever tried to open a new CD?

DRM and all things related to it exist because there is something wrong with the product price, if the product price was right volume sales would increase and illegal copying would decrease. DRM is not the solution it is a band aid toa problem none of the manufactures appear willing to fix.

Carl Tyler, 2005-06-30 19:41

If iTMS sold MP3s instead of DRMed files, I would feel much more inclined to buy there.

Volker Weber, 2005-06-30 19:50

We come from different worlds; I saw the post a couple of days ago where you showed a few of the phones you have, and I can see where mp3 is a better option for you. I tend to favor purpose-built devices, where you're more into convergence. All of my music-playing is through iTunes or my iPod -- even in the car -- so I've become dependent upon AAC w/o realizing it, and to some degree, locked into Apple's DRM.

Since Apple's left the door open for us to remove the DRM, however, I don't feel a sense of urgency to remove it. Of the 6k songs I have, only ~300 of them are from the iTMS, and I think that's typical of most people's collections: the majority of the music is from direct CD rips. It wouldn't be a disaster for me to lose access to those 300.

At any rate, I'm still grateful that Apple's managed to pull it off, and dealing w/ their easily-defeatable DRM seems like a fair price to pay for what I get out of the deal. My concern is that the more publicity this work-around gets, the more likely it is that the record companies demand stricter control.

Thom Rosario, 2005-06-30 19:55

Thom, you are Apple's model customer. You are happy with their products and you want to stay with them. The chain is long enough for you.

For those who'd rather do without a chain, there is MP3. :-)

Volker Weber, 2005-06-30 20:25

I have boxes full of scratched and unplayable LPs. How is that different? In a word: Quantity.

The solution is to back-up your files. Apple/iTunes could (and should) offer a "back up facility" (for a small fee), where you can "back-up" your music (just a list of what you have bought, not the complete file), and give you the possibility to recover from a dissaster like a hard disk failure (will happen) and no backup (Murphys law). Good idea or bad idea?

Vilhjálmur Helgason, 2005-06-30 20:50

Uh... that music isn't lost. And you don't have to contact Apple. Once you hit the limit of 5 computers, open your iTunes account and right next to "Computer Authorizations" will be a button to deauthorize all computers. You can do that once a year (but really... why would you need more?). If you had to do it more, you can contact Apple support directly.

Right from Apple's support page... from a link right on the iTunes support home page: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=93014

"If you find you have reached 5 authorizations due to system upgrades, you can reset your authorization count by clicking Deauthorize All in the Account Information screen. Note: You may only use this feature once per year. The Deauthorize All button will not appear if you have less than 5 authorized computers or if you have used this option within the last 12 months."

Pretty straightforward I would say.

It's not all about being evil. Without Apple's DRM (which is pretty liberal IMO), the record labels would never have gotten on board like they have... and we'd be stuck living in the 18th century when it comes to music. I've been buying music from the iTMS from day one and have never come close to having ANY sort of problem where I couldn't listen to my music anywhere I wanted. It just works.

As far as stripping the DRM. Burning a 128k AAC to rerip it as an MP3? That's fine, if you aren't very close friends with your ears. First... MP3? That's some ugly shit right there. AAC destroys MP3 as far as sound quality. Second, compressing a compressed lossy format with an even more lossy format... makes an audiophile like myself sick at just the thought. Blech.

Bob Obringer, 2005-06-30 22:08

Here's the problem I have. I own close to 3000 CD's. I can rip them to MP3 (which I have done with many of them) and play them in my car, my handheld, streaming across TiVo etc.

Since I'm doing this for ease of use, I would like a whole house audio system like how I use my TiVo. Or SONOS, or Soundbridge, or any of a number of other whole house audio systems.

At this point SOME of them will play AAC, but NONE of them will play a DRM'd AAC track. I paid for my music. I should be able to listen to it on those systems.

That's why I still pay for CD's and rip them. I DO buy music from iTunes, but anything I do, I rip the DRM off of it. I only buy stuff that is exclusive to iTunes or rare tracks I just can't get anywhere else. I have about 300 of them and I'm GOING to listen to them however I want, whether the record company likes it or not.

Until the record companies allow me to download music that will play everywhere, in a quality I find acceptable (at least 192 kbps) I'm not going to support these schemes.

Believe me, I've probably supported more musical artists than most people out there and I continue to do so. They need to stop treating me like a flippin' criminal.

-Grey

John Roling, 2005-06-30 22:44

Also, if your hard drive crashes. Apple will NOT let you re-download the tracks.

(Link)

I'd feel a lot better about it if once I purchased the track, I could download it any time I needed to.

You definitely need to back up your music (which I do religiously)

Take Care,
John

John Roling, 2005-06-30 22:55

Appe has sold almost 3 million iPods and 60 million tracks. That makes 20 tracks per iPod. You can count yourself as way above average, John.

Volker Weber, 2005-06-30 23:06

I think you've quoted their EU sales, Volker:
http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2005/jun/23itunes.html


Their worldwide sales are:

15 million iPods
430 million songs
http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2005/jun/28ipod.html

Thom Rosario, 2005-07-01 00:05

OK, that makes it less than 30 instead of 20 tracks per iPod. John is still way above that average. Unless he has 10 iPods.

Volker Weber, 2005-07-01 01:01

I buy songs from iTunes - and then immediately rip them to MP3 using JHymn. I have had iTunes "reclaim" some AAC music that I had removed the DRM from previously (must have missed an atom), so to prevent that in the future I simply move them to MP3. I am not an audiophile, and it works just fine for my needs - plus I can play the damned songs anywhere I want, which is what I want in the first place.

Rocky Oliver, 2005-07-01 06:46

Volker, I see your point and think it's a very valid one, even if I chose to be paranoid about other things. What I don't get however is why you choose to spread FUD by not correcting the post to reflect that the danger of getting to the point "where she won't be able to play her music again" because of loosing authorizations in a disk crash is not really a valid one.

Martin Pittenauer, 2005-07-01 11:47

If there would be no iTunes Store that would not mean that people would not listen to downloaded music files.
If you do not want to pay for music you have a lot of choices and most of them are even much more convenient than ordering a CD and wait 3 or more days or buying at a local dealer (that often does not have it available too if your taste is a bit different from mainstream).
It is sad that so many people listen without paying but I am not sure if DRM is the right answer.

Henning Heinz, 2005-07-01 13:22

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vowe.net is a personal website published by Volker Weber a.k.a. vowe. I am an author, consultant and systems architect based in Darmstadt, Germany.

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