Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Digital Rights Management: letting the snake in the door

via MacInTouch: Andrew Orlowski (The Register) writes about Apple tightening the iTunes DRM noose:
While Apple has been in the news again this week for its war against the people who promote its products, another of its wars has received much less attention. It may as well be a covert war.

Bit by bit, Apple is tightening the DRM noose, reducing the amount of freedom its own customers enjoy. Last year, the company cut the number of times users could burn a playlist from ten to seven. This time, Apple has chosen to cripple one of its coolest and most socially beneficial technologies - Rendezvous.

Apple actually applied the restriction two months ago, but the passage of time hasn't made it any sweeter. In iTunes, Rendezvous allows users on the same subnet to share their music - although this is limited to streaming only. But the most recent version of iTunes, 4.7.1, restricts that streaming capability even further, and users aren't happy, as this support discussion shows. It used to support five simultaneous listeners, but now iTunes only permits five listeners a day.
I don't think these are new lessons, but they are not easy to remember or apply. Apple's Fair Play DRM technology was introduced with a relatively large amount of freedom. As Apple's distribution scheme has gained market share, Apple has consistently revised its software to reduce the freedom of Apple's customers to use their software. Since Apple controls the software (iTunes), hardware (iPod), DRM standard (FairPlay), and distribution channel (iTunes store) they have unlimited power to control what their customers can do with their music. (Don't want to upgrade your copy of iTunes? Hah. It will be trivially easy to move you along.)

This is why I don't buy anything from the Apple music store - despite my affection for my iPod and for iTunes. I buy standard, non-DRM protected CDs. I use AAC encoding -- an open standard (MPEG-4) that is supported by non-Apple devices.

We'll see how this all plays out. The more we see how the market is deploying DRM the more we may come to love the pirates of the PRC.

If anyone still thinks Apple has some peculiar virtues I hope they are fully disillusioned. I'd absolutely choose Bill Gates to rule the computing world over Steve Jobs; if Apple can stay at a 5% market share I'm likely to remain an Apple customer. My great fear is that somehow Apple will hit a 10% market share -- at that point they'll be quite intolerable.

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