August 2, 2004

Evil Apple

Posted in General at 4:14 pm by Ian

Check out this article over at DrunkenBlog about the hidden giant that is Fairplay DRM. Check back to this entry later tonight, as I plan to write more when I get off work about my thoughts on digital rights and copyright infringement, and the potential of Apple to bring this about with (relatively) little bloodshed.

But, for now, I will simply bask in the warm glow of the Buckeroo Bonzai reference.


The thing I keep hearing from apologists of the iTunes music store is that the DRM is so transparent, that it doesn’t impact the way they use their music at all, so they don’t really care what “restrictions” there may be. It’s hailed as the ultimate compromise between the ease of use that people want and the restrictions that the record companies won’t live without. But that explanation never sat right with me.

I have to admit, Napster fundamentally changed the way I think about music. And eventually, I think it will fundamentally change the way that the music industry works. Just like I found that I could have all this music without paying for it, musicians are discovering that they can get all this publicity and distribution without paying for it. They’re unlikely to be huge mega-stars that way, but, let’s be honest, they were unlikely to be huge mega-stars at all.

I didn’t buy very many cds back in the day. I buy even fewer now. So maybe I’m not a very knowledgeable source on the economics of music or the psychology of music buyers. But for the most part, I don’t download music anymore either. I listen to internet radio stations and I go get stuff that’s released for free, and I get cds from the library. And I spend my money elsewhere. Until recently, I didn’t have any money anyway, so it didn’t matter.

And there are a thousand arguments for why I pay for cds from college A Cappella bands and They Might Be Giants, but I can’t bring myself to care about whichever shareholder of some multinational doesn’t get his royalty because I just copied a cd of the Andrews Sisters. You’ve heard them all before.

But I don’t think that my generation has completely rejected the concept of paying for content. My pile of DVDs (Approximately 40 of which I bought after having downloaded the movie or show) in the corner certainly suggests otherwise. But I think we have also gotten quite accustomed to the ease with which information flows.

And it’s about to stop.

When, all of a sudden, I can’t just send you a song that I liked and just have you play it, when I can’t loan you one of my movies because it’s locked to the devices on my network, when the computer hardware that can legally be produced is necessarily encumbered with crud because the media companies want the personal computer to be nothing more than another box in our living rooms that they can control, that’s where I draw the line. Oh, most people won’t, of course. Just like I think that the internet will revolutionize music distribution, I’m pretty confident that film and video are going to be locked down tightly.

In less than a year, you won’t be able to build a good video recorder. In ten years, television will be high definition, but most people will be stuck recording on VHS.

Back to Apple: right now their DRM isn’t much of a hassle. Right now their products are nice and easy to use and popular. But they’re the last ones I’d like to see in control of the computer, music, or video markets. I like my iPod and my laptop because they just work. Apple has made computers like appliances. But I would be greatly troubled if that were the only option.



  1. Dan said,

    I totally agree. I’ve always said, when I used to download music, that I bought MORE cds than I normally would. I would sample, literally, a song or two and then run out and buy the cd. My problem was that I didn’t, and still don’t, have the money to gamble on buying a cd because it’s “supposed” to be good. They’re all supposed to be good, the problem is most of them simply suck and that really pisses me off because once they have your money, they don’t care if you like their work or not.

    The new Tiger Army cd is really good, but one problem is in their effort to stop pirating of their cd, it’s too effective. What I mean by that is you can’t even play it on a computer – the computer won’t even detect a cd in the drive. I know why they did it, but it sucks because I spend 80% of my day in front of a computer and that’s where I listen to music. I have no problem with artists producing effective anti-piracy technology on their cds but they should find a way to make sure it can play on a computer as most people spend a great deal of time on their computer. I realize there’s a concern that if it can be seen by a computer it can be ripped by a computer, but releasing a cd that can’t be played on a computer, in my opinion, is quite stupid because you are alienating a good portion of your audience. I can’t remember the last time I listened to a cd on an actual cd player.

  2. Ian said,

    Take it back. It’s defective. Demand your money back. Talk to the manager.

    If you can’t play it in your computer, it’s not a cd, it’s just a round shiny disc. The Compact Disc standard is very particular about these things.

  3. Ethan said,

    Checking cds out from the library is awesome — their stuff might not be up to date, but there’s a ton of great music that’s a few years old to decades old that is worth checking out again. And libraries just rock in the first place.

  4. Daniel said,

    I can’t. I bought it at some music store called FYE in New Jersey.

  5. Evan said,

    Online music sharing is called Piracy, even now. Whether or not that tag is an accurate one is debatable, but some of the issues behind naming it that are important to consider. Piracy, as a term, is decended in part from when ships would take things that didn’t belong to them; spanish gold, pewter, all kinds of material things. They also took maps, ship’s logs, military and industrial secrets that could be resold. These pieces of intellectual property were then given to whomever would pay most for them.

    Regarding music piracy, it has only been lately that distribution was easy and inexpensive. Before about 1998 or so, it was difficult to make a copy of a song for someone else. You either had to pony up a gawdaweful price for a burner, or have a two-tape recorder; blank tapes were a buck a piece, and cds were 1-4 dollars a piece. (The first five blanks I bought cost 9 dollars!) Now that music has entered the digital realm, the studios are justifiably concerned; starting in 2000 music sales dropped through the floor, and have only started to pick up again sice iTunes has been out. The arguments in favor of the little guy are great- we’ll hear music that otherwise we wouldn’t, because they can’t afford to do even master their tracks in a studeio, let alone a cd release. But for studio released artists, it eats into their bottom line. I know, Metallica doesn’t need all the money they get, blah blah, but what if we were talking about some other sort of intellectual property? What if books were pirated at the same rate music is? sure you can give someone a book, or loan them a book, but you have to buy another copy if you both want it. Does Stephen King really need the sales from his latest book? John Grisham? No, of course not. But it’s their property. They created it. And if just having more people be exposed to their art was their intent, they’d publish for free, online, in pdf format so that anyone and everyone could get it.

    So. Digital Rights Management. If the only way to prevent it from being freely distributed without any benefit for the creator is to lock it down tight, I guess that’s where things are going. I don’t like it; I “acquire through alternative means” as much as anyone, but I understand it. And that’s my long and windy take on things.

  6. Ian said,

    starting in 2000 music sales dropped through the floor.

    No they didn’t. The music industry keeps going around saying that their sales are hurting to convince legislators that we need tougher laws to stop all these evil pirates. But by any objective measure of their sales, they took off even faster when Napster showed up.

    What actually happened is that Single sales dropped around then. But total sales were way up, and, in fact, only started to go down when the RIAA started suing downloaders. Both of which support the theory that people use P2P to test out lots of music and buy more because they’re exposed to more.

    As for your other points, I agree in a way that one’s livelihood is not something to be taken lightly. But neither are freedoms. I stronly recommend Professor Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture on the topic for anyone who is willing to take a new look at the historical concept and purpose of copyright, and how effective Big Media has been at convincing people that restrictions of their fair use rights are both reasonable and “how things have always been.”

  7. Ethan said,

    Some interesting news snippets from an article:
    “… the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said global revenue fell 7 percent to $32.2 billion in 2002.
    The sale of CD albums — which accounts for 89 percent of the market — slipped 6 percent, the IFPI said. Singles and cassettes were hardest hit, dropping 16 percent and 36 percent respectively.”
    “The IFPI said U.S. music sales declined for a third straight year in 2002, with 10 percent fewer album units being sold.”

    So they’re talking about global revenue and album units. It’s good that they noted that CDs are only 89% of that revenue, so other fluctuations can affect the global rev too, and that they noted the significant contribution of Singles fluctuation. Also nice to note is that world economies have been diving and such over the past few years, so piracy is by no means solely responsible for a slump.

    Yet the figures from the IFPI still indicate some slump, in part likely due to piracy. Granted, the IFPI dislikes piracy on principle and therefore has incentive to report slumping sales. On that note, Ian – where did you read that the slump was fictional? I’m not challenging that it was, but just curious where you read that. Was it the book? In any case, Free Culture looks like an interesting read.

  8. Ian said,

    I don’t think it was in the book, but I don’t recall offhand. I’ll have to do some research and get back to you.

  9. Ian said,

    Another one: Where Have All the CDs Gone?

    There’s a lot of good information in there. It’s to the standard tune of “lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

    When they raise the price and fewer albums sell, they report reduced numbers of albums sold. When they reduce the price and move more albums, they report the drop in total $ of sales. When they reduce the number of releases by 30% and sales fall by 4%, they report the loss while ignoring the relative gain. When they ship more than record stores sell (as in 2003), they report the reduced store sales. When they ship less than the record stores sell (because of sales out of inventory, as in early 2004), they report the fall in shipments, while ignoring the fact that more albums are selling. When the international market picks up and the US market drops, they report the drop in the US market. When US sales are up but total sales are down, they report international figures.

    They continue to completely ignore the fact that nearly all industries were in an economic downturn during the last few years, and that as an entertainment expense, they should have been hit a lot harder than the 5-10% a year they claim if the evil music downloaders were really a major force.

    Yeah, every single statistic they’ve released is true in the sense of being correct. But it’s all part of a larger web of bullshit.

  10. Matt said,

    No kidding. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if there are fewer new releases, as has been the case, there are going to fewer total sales. And I refuse to buy from iTunes. If I spend my money on music (and I do), no one better tell me where or where not I can play it.

  11. Ian said,

    Oh. I will have to retract my statement that music sales went up. I can’t find anything to support that right now, and I think that I’m remembering stuff from relatively around 2000, when Napster had been going for about a year or so and sales were still surging upward.

  12. Evan said,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the argument re. piracy that Lessig makes is that ‘everyone did it before, so why should they stop us now?’ That seems almost tautological: Everyone pirates, making it ok, and it’s ok because everyone does it.

    And back to the DRM point, if someone can make a safe, someone can crack it, right? Isn’t there already some software you can download that will crack iTunes DRM?

  13. Adam said,

    Yeah, hymn does a wonderful job on the FairPlay DRM. However every new iTunes release does something to break previously unDRMed files. Usually within a week of an iTues release though then have a new version of hymn that fixes it. I don’t buy much music from iTunes but the ones I do get run through hymn. Works wonderfully (though I think you might have to have an iPod for it to work properly).

  14. Ian said,

    That’s an over-simplification of Lessig’s point, but it’s a workable one. If it sounds illogical or circular to you, then you have to answer for why it’s wrong, and either what’s changed from the past, or why everyone who used to make copies of information without the creator’s legal permission was always wrong and never knew it.

    Lessig’s point is that copyright exists to strike a balance between the interests of the creators and the interest of the public. Obviously, no copyright at all affects the creators badly and by extension the public because said creators won’t create as much if they can’t suppor t themselves. However, swing it too far the other way and both creators and the public suffer, because too many things are tied up in ownership, and people can’t build on the past to create new things. Lessig points out that this balance is currently incredibly out of whack and, what’s worse, people are buying the line that it has always been that way.

    Copyright was originally fourteen years (IIRC).
    The current copyright term is life of the creator plus seventy five years. Let’s say we made a drastic change and all of a sudden it was reduced to life + 20 years. Do you think that artists and musicians would all of a sudden decide not to create anymore because their great grandchildren would no longer have control of their work? Which side of the pendulum swing do you think we’re on?

    As to hymn. Yeah, it sorta works. So does burning and resampling. The point is that it ought not to be necessary in the first place.

    And that’s IT until I get home. I have got to get some more work done.

  15. Ian said,

    I, uh, didn’t mean that y’all had to stop, just that I wasn’t going to respond for a while.

  16. JT said,

    Without getting technical, here’s my perspective: me downloading music has had a positive impact on the music industry. I, being a former poor college student and now a unemploted college grad, value my music purchases. With music downloads, I’ve been able to sample some songs, and if I like enough of them I get CDs. There’s so many more CDs I’ll buy as soon as I get money, too. When I left for college, I had maybe 40 CDs, and now I have nigh on 150. Most of that is from sampling music by downloading.

    Also, digital music makes it easy for unknown bands to help distribute their music. My friends’ band in college offered their first CD for free as MP3s after they sold out of the CD. They also released and online EP of tracks they had recorded, but had no room for on the double CD the released. They also released a bunch of songs recorded live online for free. All this was to share the music with others, which is a sentiment a lot of music artists feel.

    So, sharing music = good.

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