A Family Friend Experiences DRM; The Loss of Digital Rights

This morning, I received an email from a family friend. Recently, they joined the new Napster: a music service that let's you buy Windows Media Audio (WMA) music files of your favorite artist. Things went awry when they decided they wanted to listen to their music purchases on their Archos Jukebox MP3 player. The Archos player does not support WMA. They emailed me asking how they could play their WMA music on their Archos. They had tried software to convert WMA to MP3, but it failed. "Help!", they said. They didn't know the software they need is illegal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Why can't you just transcode the WMA file you paid for to MP3? Because WMA supports Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems restrict the use of digital files in order to protect the interests of copyright holders. DRM technologies can control file access (number of views, length of views), altering, sharing, copying, printing, and saving. These technologies may be contained within the operating system, program software, or in the actual hardware of a device.
--EPIC's Digital Rights Management and Privacy Page

This makes the record industry (RIAA and friends) happy. It lets them control where their audio goes. To decode the WMA and turn it into MP3 would defeat the DRM (the MP3 won't honor the WMA DRM). This breaks the law under the DMCA's circumvention of copyright protection systems section (U.S. Code: Title 17, Chapter 12, Sec. 1201).

Even though you have paid for this music, the RIAA, Microsoft, and the DMCA place limits on where and how you can listen to your music. If you want to listen to your WMA music on an MP3 player, you'll have to use illegal WMA DRM cracking code.

When exclusive rights over digital media codecs (audio and video encodings) are given to a person or coporation, you lose control over how you can listen-to or view the music and movies you have bought. We aren't talking about giving you rights to distribute the music, we are talking about giving you rights to listen to your song on a legal player you own.

A lot of people are upset by the regulations and loss of control that consumers are beginning to feel. The Xiph.Org Foundation seeks to create audio and video formats and codecs that are patent-free, open-source and legally available to everyone. Their Vorbis audio codec rivals the quality of all other available audio codecs (MP3, AAC, WMA, etc.) and is becoming popular with hardware vendors since it does not require a fee to be paid for every player sold.

Before I get off my soap box, if you find regulation over how you listen to your music distasteful, you can do something about it. Aside from moving yourself and your friends to consumer friendly formats such as Vorbis, you can also donate money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Their job is protecting your online digital rights.

Posted by brainsik at 01.12.03 15:45


Subsequently published on infoAnarchy: http://www.infoanarchy.org/story/2003/12/2/0195/21079.

Posted by: brainsik at 02.12.03 14:00

I understand your point of views. I guess it would not make a difference if ALL HW and OS would support WMA, but we all know that won't happen. That is the beauty of MP3. I too have downloaded songs from itunes and musicmatch and have to do work arounds to make MP3 CDs that I can play anywhere. I've never been a big music fan, but the ease of buying online has made me a bigger spender in music. They gained a customer, they should at least give us the right to play the music wherever the hell we want...

Posted by: vtcx at 14.02.04 22:38

DRM == Digital *Restrictions* Management... Not "Rights" ...it removes rights from both the artists and the consumers and since they are the majority I think this term should stick.

Posted by: Kevin Burton at 28.03.04 14:28

Don't buy Copyrighted material. It's bad for your freedom.

Posted by: Connelly Barnes at 19.04.04 18:33