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 15:45 | Comments (4)


Why I don't like blog comments

The trouble with web-based discussion boards, especially the comments on blogs, is that it is hard to have conversations in such a fractured space. If you only read one blog, it is less of a problem (but still has issues). For example, danah boyd suggested a dinner to which a friend of mine responded in a comment on the blog entry. I then fallowed up with a response of my own. The thing is, unless my friend brainsik goes back to check the comments of the entry, he may never find I responded. What we lose with blogs and have with email is when someone posts to a list, you can respond not just to the list but directly to the person you are responding to. This is a lesson we should have already learned: direct addressability is one of the core features of the internet. RSS aggration starts to make this better, but are we just reinventing the wheel? Really, what do blogs have over moderated mailing lists read with a threaded mail reader? This "new" social software is supposed to make it easier for us to communicate, not harder.

Posted by moore at 23:33 | Comments (7)



I have been thinking about different creepy ways to use friendster latley. This is my first hack: It is a bookmarklet that will search friendster for the currently selected text as an email adress. Basically, what that means is you select an email address on a web page, click, and see whether there is a friendster profile using that address.

Friendster email lookup (bookmarklet)

I have only tried it under mozilla, but it should work in ie as well, and it does not work when there are frames. As I probably will not use this much myself, it is unlikey that I will fix the frame issue. If you want to use it, drag the link to your short cut bar.

Posted by moore at 09:22