DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: Ever come across something that only gets stranger and stranger the deeper you delve into it? That was my experience when I almost purchased a new CD — a DRM crippled CD — this weekend.
This tale is part of a larger struggle within the recording and digital download industry — not of P2P or piracy — but one of innovation and competition. As you follow this odd story (broken into 4 increasingly strange parts), you will note that as it gets weirder, Artists and Consumers are the collateral damage. It makes one wonder just what the hell the Recording Industry is thinking about these days:
A friend with whom I frequently swap Music and Film suggestions (as well as mixed CDs) asks me if I have ever heard of the band "My Morning Jacket." I have not. She suggests checking out the album Z. The album is very well reviewed. So I fire up iTunes, go to the music store. The band is rather interesting, not your typical pop fare. Sounds like a cross between Morcheeba and The White Stripes. (Rolling Stone heard elements of Radiohead, The Who and Lynyrd Skynyrd). Lush, ethereal, offbeat music, mixed with some electronica, but mostly straightforward fuzzbox-driven rock-n-roll. My kind of stuff.
The reviewers note that Sony has crippled the disc with Sunncomm’s latest DRM software. (You may remember Sunncomm’s infamous shift key incident). The key restriction of this particular DRM is that it renders a disc nontransferable to the iPod.
Nor can you make a backup copy, or travel discs, or a copy for the
weekend house, or use any of the songs on a mixed disc. Oh, and it won’t
work with my iTunes Music software (and that also means no shuffle
Since the CD is incompatible with Apple iTunes, and the music cannot be transferred to an iPod, it eliminates about half of my legal uses for it. So I don’t buy the CD, ’cause it won’t do what I need it to do. Chalk up a lost sale to DRM.
Here’s where our tale takes a turn for the bizarre: According to the Band/Label’s website, these DRM restrictions were put on the CD without their knowledge or permission:
Information Regarding Our Artists’ Music, Copy-Protected CDs and your iPod
We at ATO Records are aware of the problems being experienced by certain fans due to the copy-protection of our distributor. Neither we nor our artists ever gave permission for the use of this technology, nor is it our distributor’s opinion that they need our permission. Wherever it is our decision, we will forego use of copy-protection, just as we have in the past.
That’s simply a stunner.
The loss of good will and fan support must be significant to the band. That’s a very real monetary damage to the band. (I wonder what their legal options are). It becomes even more absurd when you consider that "ATO Records permits audiotaping at our artists’ performance." So this is a very forward looking, copyright-friendly bunch of folk.
I would hope that in the future, music agents and attorneys remember to address this in label contracts on the band’s behalf.
As odd as the story is so far, its about to get a whole lot weirder: It turns out that all Engadget (quoting Variety) notes that this DRM is not at all about making the CD immune to piracy. Instead, its part of a pissing contest between Sony and Apple: Variety writes that "the new copy protection scheme — which makes it difficult
to rip CDs and listen to them with an iPod — is designed to put
pressure on Apple to open the iPod to other music services, rather than
making it dependent on the iTunes Music Store for downloads."
You mean to tell me that this isn’t even about P2P and unauthorized downloading? How annoying is that? Sony has their panties in a bunch cause Apple has been kicking their arses all over the innovation and digital music schoolyard? So the mature response from a major global conmsumer electronics corporation is to take their ball and go home?
DRM is now being used as a competitive economic weapon — not as an anti-piracy tool.
As a music consumer, I find this ridiculous. Why I cannot use a
legally purchased CD — because Sony is miffed at Apple for creating the
2000’s version of their Walkman — is beyond absurd. I am very, very annoyed at this.
So far, Sony’s lost business with me is now one CD ($10.99), one flat panel TV ($3,499) and one laptop ($3,199). That’s lost sales of approximately $6,710. If you are a Sony shareholder, you should be as annoyed as I am.
I saved the absolutely weirdest part for last.
I write Suncomm to complain about this DRM. Their website encourages people to write Apple and request them to "Open up their proprietary technology."
Yeah, spare me your lectures. Just because your client failed to create a digital music player and legal downloading store, doesn’t mean that I have to get conscripted in your lobbying ploy.
Just tell me where CD purchasers should send this crippled disc back for a refund, I ask them.
UPON RECEIPT, THEY SEND ME AN EMAIL TELLING ME HOW TO WORK AROUND THE DRM:
"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."
So this entire rigamarole won’t even protect the CD contents — its merely a very annoying interference with my ability to enjoy the legal uses of a product I actually wanted to purchase.
But wait, there’s more! As if that’s not absurd enough, they remind me that none of this is necessary at all. As noted above, its nothing more than a swipe at Apple:
"Please note an easier and more acceptable solution (to who?) requires cooperation from Apple, who we have already reached out to in hopes of addressing this issue. To help speed this effort, we ask that you use the following link to contact Apple and ask them to provide a solution that would easily allow you to move content from protected CDs into iTunes or onto your iPod rather than having to go through the additional steps above."
If you think that this cannot get any dumber, you would be wrong. The coup de grace of this exercise in corporate stupidity is this:
"If you have a Mac computer you can copy the songs using your iTunes Player as you would normally do."
Words simply fail me . . .
POSTSCRIPT: October 31, 2005 6:08am
I am a buyer of CDs, and only rarelydo I download tracks from Apple’s iTunes Music Store due to sound quality.
I didn’t spend an obscene amount of money on a home audio system to
listen to the mediocre audio quality of MP3s. The
not-even-remotely-as-lossless-as-advertised-compression algorithms are
hardly any better. MP3s and iPod quality music is fine for the beach or
my commute on a train, but its something else entirely in my living
My fair use: When I get a new CD, I rip it to iTunes,
then transfer the music to my iPods; I make a backup copy (in case of
loss). If I really like a disc, I make a copy for the car or the
weekend house. If the disc is "youth-friendly," I’ll make a copy for my
wife’s classroom. She teaches art, and I refuse to let her take any
more original discs to school — they have all gotten destroyed.
Incidentally, I am what the marketing people like to call an "influencer"
(i.e., think of Netflix, TiVo or Macintosh). I do not copy entire CDs for people,
but I like to expose frinds to news music — I will give them a song or two, with the recommendation that if they like
it, they purchase the artist’s disc. I use P2P to check out stuff not available
elsewhere, or to see if I want to purchase a full CD. I also like
to make mixed playlists, which get burned for the car or for
friends who are looking to hear new music, now that radio is dead.
I believe all of the above is well within my rights as a consumer of the
CDs that I legally purchased; If someone wants to try to convince me otherwise, please take your best shot.
UPDATE: October 31, 2005 7:02 am
This morning, I did a Google News search on "My Morning Jacket: Z," and I found 147 mainstream news articles from the past 30 days.
One — only one — mentions the DRM issue:
MUSIC: Burning the Faithful
New copy-protected CDs screw over the only honest customers the music industry has left.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
There is a large and potentially fascinating story here that you folks in the tech press/music media are overlooking . . .
UPDATE: November 10, 2005 1:38 pm
Here’s the biggest joke of all: I actually got the disc, and ripped it to iTunes and the iPod — on my G5 iMac . . .
The Amazon reviewers DRM comments are below . . .
Reviewer 1: GRT (New York City) October 25, 2005
Buy it on iTunes
Whatever the merits of the music, I tossed this disk in the garbage. Why?
1. Upon insertion in the computer, requires you to agree to a contract that restricts usage to approved devices etc and inserts software on your hard drive to monitor usage.
2. After agreeing it launches a goofy proprietary application to play the music instead of a media player.
3. You cannot play the files in iTunes
4. You cannot rip the files to you computer
5. You cannot play the songs on you iPod.
This attempt to restrict legal usage of the music is outrageous and should be tolerated. Is the band aware of this? Do they support it? It is bad business, bad publicity and done in bad faith.
What a rip-off
Reviewer 2: redbank2 (Red Bank, NJ) October 26, 2005
Repeating one other reviewer, if you want this on your iPOD, do NOT buy this…Plus on a PC the only way to play it is with it’s own built in CD player…I like Winamp, sorry, it doesn’t work with Winamp…Oh well…
the music is fine, but does not make up for the nonsense of putting up with this egregious display of lack of marketing skill…If someone wanted to copy and distribute it, they could, what foolishness on the part of Sony/BMG/ATO and RCA Music…And they wonder why corporate music is dying…
DO NOT buy this if you own an iPod
Reviewer 3: David Klingenberger (Chicago, IL) – October 17, 2005
I’m not some 20-year-old music thief. I’m a 46-year-old guy who spends thousands of dollars a year on CDs. Thousands. (It used to be vinyl, 8-tracks, real to reels). And I’m being treated like a criminal. How wrong. How wrong.
Don’t support the criminals who sell you "copy protected" CDs.
Don’t buy this CD. Get it some other way.
And how sad. This may be the best CD of the year. (It’s absolutely amazing.)
BEWARE – Copy Protected
Reviewer 4: Scott Dyer (San Francisco, CA) October 4, 2005
Note that this CD is copy protected. The most significant implication of this is that you can only rip it to WMA which will not play on most portable music players including the iPod. There is no way around this. This CD relies on a much tigher version of copy protection than other CD’s so tricks such as the ole’ holding down the shift key to avoid autoplay do not work. If you want to be able to listen to this album on your iPod, purchase it from iTunes. The other advantage to this is that you get a bonus track not available on the CD version.