Archive for the 'DRM' Category

Even John thinks it’s wrong

John Gruber has become something of an Apple apologist over the last couple of years. His blog used to be pretty interesting, but it kind of morphed over the period of a year into a series of rants about basically how anyone who didn’t like Apple was deluded in one way or another.

A lot of us don’t like Apple’s approach under Steve Jobs. The products are uber shiny, but it’s just the same trap Gates cooked up for us 15 years ago, with a similar pitch. Back then Windows looked pretty good too, remember. It wasn’t brushed aluminium, but it had a whole 16 colours!

The deal is one that short sighted companies supplying almost anything will try and offer – lock-in. Lock-in is a well known issue in the IT industry, and in my day job it’s something we have to address with our customers in every pitch.

Lock-in describes a situation where a customer loses the ability to change supplier, because the supplier has a proprietary hold on them somehow. In my business the risk is generally that we deliver something nobody else can easily understand, but in other businesses it can be introduced in all sorts of ways.

I honestly believe lock-in is bad for both parties to a contract eventually. It is clearly bad for a customer to give up their control over their own property, and for a supplier it encourages lazy, inwardly-directed thinking that ultimately makes their products suck. c.f. Microsoft.

Apple are being creative in their approach to lock-in. Buy an iPod, and you can only really use it with iTunes. Install iTunes, and lo here’s a music store with DRMed music that you will never be able to move to another manufacturers player. Clunk, click, you’re locked-in. You shell out 500 quid on records from the Apple music store, and for the rest of your life you have no choice of music player – pick another supplier and you lose your entire music library.

That’s pretty much par for the course for a lot of companies these days – many of them feel that’s fair business tactics. Apple have gone further with the iPhone though. It’s not just your music that’s locked down, but any applications you can run. If you are happy with Apple becoming your own personal Sky Daddy then that’s fine. But the odd one of us weirdos thinks that maybe at some point in the far distant future we might actually want to be able to control our own property. Just in case, you know?

Apple have almost immediately shown their true colours with their control over the iPhone Appstore with their decision to remove a piece of software because it competes with their own products. And yes, even John thinks it’s wrong. Which shows just how bad it really is.

The nerve Apple have here is far beyond Microsoft’s wildest dreams. For all their unfair business practices and shoddy code, Microsoft have maintained a neutral platform on the whole. Sure they hid some APIs and agressively bought and then killed competitors, but Windows is a thriving ecosystem with real software on it. Just imagine if Microsoft plain denied WordPerfect because they’d decided to release MSWord. Dear me.

So please, dear reader, remember that whilst a benevolent dictatorship might seem very efficient it can turn sour very, very quickly. And if you really want to keep control over your own life, choose Free Software.

Government gives ISPs pointy hat, truncheon

The Government wants ISPs to stop illegal downloads.

This is so wrong headed it’s hard to see what on earth they’re thinking of. Presumably they envisage a technology solution, which is pretty typical amongst people like government ministers – hey well my computer can tell when I’m writing a letter and show me a paperclip, so surely it must be able to stop copyright infringement!

Here’s a few issues that I think are pretty much insoluble:

How can you tell what content infringes copyright?

There’s a couple of options here. Blacklisting known infringers sounds like a good idea, but it’s got problems.

Sites such as The PirateBay don’t themselves distribute copyright material. They host only the (non-copyright) torrent tracker, and the downloaders all share the content amongst themselves.  These downloaders are on moving IP addresses and come and go pretty randomly, and are all over the world and the UK.

So who do you blacklist?

A team of people inspecting torrent sites for suspicious material, and then tracking the torrents, finding the IP addresses of all peers and then adding them to a rolling blacklist that’s used by all IPs might work.  Well work as in generate an actual list of blacklistable IP addresses.  This is the sort of technique the Chinese use, with quite a lot of success.  There will be a lot of collatoral damage though, and in a free society that’s very difficult to justify.  And justify it, in court, they are going to have to do.

Blacklisting The PirateBay sounds good, and is much easier, but new torrent sites will pop up all the time. Again the judiciary will have a very dim view of arbitrary censorship of people who have been convicted of no crime.  I don’t see this method working beyond the first few lawsuits.

Alternatively they might imagine some sort of fingerprinting. Every stream will be examined on the fly, perhaps for the evil bit. With a bit of work it’s possible to probably identify some copyright work using fingerprinting, with quite a few mistakes. Of course, this is defeated utterly by encryption. Right now torrents aren’t encrypted, but I think it will take approximately 1.2 nanoseconds for everyone to move to encrypted torrents if something like this comes in.

Some ISPs might go as far as blocking bittorrent. This is relatively easy to do, and much harder to avoid, however loads of services use bittorrent now that are perfectly legal. Even the BBC’s own iPlayer uses the same sort of technology, and I can see how popular banning that would be.

How do you know it’s working?

They are threatening to punish ISPs unless they “do something”. Precisely how are they going to decide who to punish? Is there going to be some sort of quota – “you have banned 50 users this week, you have unlocked an achievement!”. Sorry, that should be “50 customers”.

There just isn’t a reasonable success metric, and ISPs are not going to voluntarily ban their own customers.  They’ll kick and scream and resist wherever they can, so whatever comes up with is going to have to be enforceable in court.  That means metrics that are clear, fair and measurable.  I just don’t believe such a thing exists.

Ultimately this is just the content exploitation industries failing to address the fact that their business model was temporary. It relied on a particular coincidence of technological limitations and market opportunities. This has changed and now they are about as useful as a bicycle to the proverbial fish.

I just can’t see this happening without a huge amount of damage to the government, and the whole idea being binned in the end.  I just hope they aren’t dumb enough to do it.

Last FM and audio hijacking

Last.FM have announced that they will be providing a huge amount of their catalogue available for free, streamed from their site, with artists paid from advertising and possibly some sort of subscription model.

This is part of a worldwide trend anticipated by many of us for a very long time. Several mobile phone networks are in the process of releasing “music plus” packages, where you get pretty much any music you like, for free, at any time. Again, artists are paid from the phone subscription package.

Obviously streamed music can be copied. Over at Rogue Amoeba, who produce Audio Hijack Pro, they’re an interesting post on this, wondering if this is going to be a problem for the free-streamed model Last.FM have developed.

I don’t think it matters. You won’t bother keeping a copy for yourself for much longer in any case. Why have copies of all those CDs, or MP3s, when it’s all available from the Internet, all the time, at zero cost and effort? The only reason to keep a copy yourself was an artifact of the primitive method of packaging and distribution – not because there being millions of individual copies of a piece of music is inherently useful.

So, in ten year’s time, I reckon the kids won’t have a single copy of mainstream music themselves. Their record collection will consist of a set of bookmarks only – and the whole “music business” as it currently stands will just be a brief “blip” in the history of music, from it’s origins in live-only performance to it’s future as a ubiquitous cultural service in the cloud.

BBC Trust to meet Open Source Consortium

The BBC have, for reasons that seem rather opaque, decided to use a particularly grim form of technology for their iPlayer.  It uses DRM to stop the content viewed from being shared, which also stops it working on most platforms – it will only be available for Windows.  This all seems pretty retrograde, especially when pretty much all BBC output is available for free download from UKNova.  What precisely are they trying to protect?

Anyway, now the BBC Trust is going to meet the OSC to discuss it.  I hope the Trust shows some teeth here, and tells the BBC where to get off.  We’ve already paid for all this programming, so why on earth can’t we just watch it when we want?

BBC loses the plot

The BBC is, after all, going to DRM stuff it distributes over the internets.  Weird decision really, since they don’t DRM it went transmitted any other way.  Still, it’ll keep UKNova in business.  They seem to have everything the BBC ever made, unDRMed in nice friendly torrent format.

The choice of Windows Media format is just as irksome, as it works pretty poorly on free platforms, because Microsoft won’t license it for free linux players.  Thay means the players have to utilise clean-room reverse engineering and all sorts of horrible hacks (like copying DLLs from windows boxes onto your computer) to decrypt them.  It’s all amazingly lame when there are perfectly good open video formats available.

Boo BBC, you have failed.

Roll up, roll up get your own integer

Remember the AACS business last week, where they are threatening anyone who mentions a certain big number with prison. Well, you too can own an integer! That’s right, under the auspices of the well-thought-out DMCA, you too can sue anyone who mentions your number, and just imagine – if every number becomes owned by someone we could end in a world without numbers! Utopia! The DMCA will have finally achieved it’s aims.

Incidentally, E4 DE 37 A0 C7 1F 8B 5A DC F4 F2 C3 6D A4 D8 33 is mine, ALL MINE!  bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Is this really the end of music DRM?

[Microsoft dropping DRM from Zune Music Store]( Microsoft have seen the writing on the wall for music DRM much faster than expected, and are [following Apple]( into providing music files without DRM restrictions.

This probably really is the end for music DRM, something that is in the best interests of most music lovers and artists. The revolution that’s finally going to happen in music is going to change the shape of it, and is certainly going to make [some forms of music]( uneconomic, but it will also make other forms feasible that once were not. It’s a whole new world out there and if I was an unsigned artist I would be very excited about the possibilities.

What this isn’t is the death of DRM. The impulse that made the music industry commit [such]( [public]( [hara-kiri]( wasn’t irrational, it was just very poorly judged against their market. In video and television I think we can expect the same behaviour, but with a lot more ferocity. The vast investments in the business models, not least the business models of their suppliers (think Windows Vista), will mean DRM hangs around for some while yet.

Transient content will probably always be advertising supported, since it’s easy and gives access to the most eyeballs. There’s a whole new arms race in there for advertising avoidance software, so the advertising will probably end up pretty subtle. It’ll be just as offensive as TV is now — but hey, go read a book or something.

The DVD market is the one that’s really going to hurt a lot of people. This stuff is being traded big-time on the P2P networks now, and it has become a vital market for a lot of media companies. A lot of series would not be produced without the DVD aftermarket, and the economics of video are, for the moment, different from a lot of music. It will be a few decades before you can make *The West Wing*, from scratch, on your own, in your bedroom, using only a computer. If there isn’t a business model that can support large scale drama with high production values, that would be a real shame.

Video is far less accessible on the move than music too, so being restricted to play your DVDs only on your home player is less of a restriction. I can see a lot of technological battles coming up to try to lock down every single digital and analogue hole in video reproduction. The recent [AACS Crack]( is only the beginning. Expect a few attempts, some successful, to change the law too.

Love the Linux weenies

The scene: a gaol, somewhere in the mid-west. With apologies to Jim Dodge.

> I’m standing in a cell, when the cell block door opens and the Sergeant, fat, red and sweating enters dragging a screaming Microsoft user. He hauls him to the end of the line of cells and throws him into it. The Microsoft user’s name is Joe. The Sergeant’s name is Bill.

> Joe screams “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I hear the Sergeant kick him in the stomach. The Sergeant walks out, locking the cell behind him. He leaves the cell block.

> Silence. The other prisoners are quiet too, listening. We can hear Joe sobbing.

> Ten minutes later, Joe takes a huge breath and we hear him scream again “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”. This repeats once every ten minutes or so. “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”.

> After a few hours of this, the cell block door opens. The Sergeant walks in, tapping his blackjack on his thigh. He walks to Joe’s cell, and opens the door. We hear the sudden thud of the blackjack striking Joe’s head, and he hits the floor with a thump.

> “Too much noise. I’ll give you something to block up that mouth of yours, kid” says the Sergeant.

> “On your knees”.

> There’s another thump as he strikes Joe again.

> “That’s right, good. Now you know what to do.”

> We hear a moan and a gag from Joe. Everyone else in the block is silent, as we hear the panting of the Sergeant. Then, with a crescendo, it stops. Joe gags and pukes.

> “You better remember that, kid.”

> The sergeant slowly leaves the block, looking even more florid than before. We hear Joe gag and puke.

That’s what it’s like to be a Linux user right now, seeing all the rest of you being abused by your software vendors.

I see Microsoft, Apple and other users of big corporate manufacturers being slowly imprisoned by their own software. As more and more [DRM](ttp:// is added to the things we own, the less freedom we have from it.

This post isn’t about the dangers of DRM, or indeed why it’s so harmful. That much is obvious. This is a gaze into the crystal ball to see where this might go.

Microsoft are attempting perhaps the largest land grab in the history of entertainment and communication. What has happened so far with record sales is *nothing* compared to the prize of Internet Television (IPTV). That big box in the corner of your room is not long for this world in it’s current form. Microsoft want everyone to have a Microsoft television, running Microsoft Windows, and taking content mediated and managed by Microsoft.

To become both the monopoly supplier of IPTV and the [monopsony]( buyer of content from the TV and film companies, Microsoft need to conduct a major land grab right *now* to get their platform and their standards accepted. Selling it to their users is difficult, since there is no benefit to them. Selling it to the film and tv companies is easier, since right now it costs them little and has some significant temptations to them.

This answers the conundrum I posed [the other week]( — why are Microsoft building such horrendous DRM into Vista? If they can get the content suppliers on side now, they have a real possibility of tying up the platform. But I don’t think they’ll succeed, and in the process they may ruin their business. And the reason they’ll fail is because of Linux.

Vista is going to be a nightmare when it rolls out, but right now Microsoft couldn’t give two hoots. It’s going to be slow unstable crap, because of all this DRM, but right now as far as they are concerned their users have *no choices*.

It would seem in fact as if Microsoft have this all sewn up. If they can provide a viable platform for IPTV that limits users right sufficiently that content producers can maximise their profits, what could stop them? After all, if you want your content, where else are you going to go?

RIght now, the answer would be the various P2P networks. They are cheap and easy, and you can get pretty much anything. These aren’t going to work for Vista users though, oh no. Anything with DRM will be unplayable on Vista, even if you can download it from these sites. So, you have to suck your content from the Microsoft pipe, or nothing.

Apple would be viable competition, but they are going down exactly the same road. They are basically happy with their computer market share, and Microsoft are willing to cede this to them. If Apple lost much more market share, in fact, Microsoft would probably once again fund them, just to make sure they weren’t legally a monopoly. Some weak competition is very valuable to them. I’d be willing to bet that Apple buy into the same DRM strategy as Microsoft, especially if Microsoft find it in their hearts to fund the development.

So, all you Windows users, if you want to play a movie without paying a fee for every view, or a fee for time shifting, or without the 5 minute rant about copyright theft at the beginning, what do you do? You run Linux, that’s what you do. You will shortly have no choice and this, I suspect, is going to be the greatest encouragement to the growth of Linux ever.

I can see some corporates buying this argument too. Vista is going to be buggy as hell, and I reckon it’ll take much longer to become stable than 2000 or XP needed. When corporate networks start failing, this might provide the final urge to a lot of companies to move to Linux on the desktop. The product is very nearly there now, and with a tech support team to roll it out, a Linux corporate desktop is a real option now.

The availability of the Linux desktop *on it’s own* is enough to cripple Microsoft’s strategy. If enough people run a Linux desktop, or soon a Linux TV, it defeats Microsoft’s strategy. As Firefox has shown, you don’t need a major market share to be a disruptive influence. Just 20% of people using non Microsoft/Apple software should be enough to stop the monopoly/monopsony strategy.

And where there is competition their lock-in strategy fails. In ten years when you are still running Windows, and you’ve got your Microsoft-powered TV, but your content isn’t priced per minute, or person watching, or whatever, then be thankful for those Linux users who kept the market open.