Can't hear your utopian vision over the sound of my iPod.

Cory Doctorow takes his cardboard sign that says “DRM-ER, REPENT!” to Salon today to harangue you mindless sheeple who continue to buy iPods.

Tsk. You idiots.

Doctorow doesn’t believe Steve Jobs when he says he’d drop DRM in a hearbeat if the recording companies would let him, saying Apple is enjoying the benefits of locking customers into iTunes. If Jobs is serious, he asks, why won’t Apple sell songs from artists who own their own music and want it to be sold DRM-free? Why are some podcasts DRMed and some DRM-free? Why has Apple always sold Pixar movies with DRM? Why was Apple’s first pitch to the music companies to sell DRM-free music?

Whoops, he didn’t say that last one.

To be sure, though, Jobs is only talking about music. No one is under any illusions that the movie business is going to budge one inch. The Macalope will stipulate that there is a bizarre inconsistency in the treatment of the two media. One’s DRM is under attack, the other’s is not.

Mr. Gruber has opined here on whether or not Apple would offer both DRMed and DRM-free music and the Macalope agrees with his analysis – it’s going to take some critical mass to get Apple to do it (not just a smattering of indy bands), but if one of the companies says “OK”, Apple better come through.

As for podcasts being offered both ways, it is an inconsistency, but consumers of podcasts are almost certainly more aware of what the heck DRM is in the first place.

Doctorow does make some good points but, as usual for him with this subject, he’s so wound up about it that he keeps heading off into la-la-koo-koo crazy-bananas land to make sure you know how bad DRM is.

Apple may have created a successful “Switch” campaign by reverse-engineering Microsoft products like PowerPoint to make Keynote, an Apple program that lets you run old PowerPoint decks on your Mac, but Microsoft can’t create a “Switch to the Zune” campaign that offers you the ability to play your iTunes Store songs on a Zune, Microsoft’s latest abortive iPod-killer.

What? Apple’s “Switch” campaign is based on getting PowerPoint files to open in Keynote? Since when? Apple’s own “Get A Mac” ads actually reference the Mac version of Microsoft Office, not iWork.

The Macalope knows Doctorow is trying to compare Microsoft’s lock on office applications to Apple’s lock on digital music, but it’s a rather tortured comparison. Even MP3s are not editable in the way a PowerPoint presentation is.

Not only won’t your iTunes Store music play on those devices, it’s illegal to try to get it to play on those devices.

Doctorow doesn’t say it explicitely, but he seems to be implying that even burning an audio CD of your iTunes Store purchases and re-ripping them as MP3s is illegal under the DCMA. The Macalope has never heard that before and is inclined to think that’s not true, but he wouldn’t be completely surprised to find out it is. You would have to re-enter all the metadata and for a large number of tracks that’s going to be a huge pain in the ass.

Doctorow then plays his Apple street cred card again.

I’m a lifelong Apple fan boy — I have an actual Mac tattoo…

That’s cute. As long as we’re whipping it out and comparing sizes here, the Macalope feels compelled to point out that he has a head actually shaped like a Mac.

So… you know…

Beeeotch…

If you rip your own CDs and load them onto your iPod, you’ll notice something curious.

The iPod is a roach motel: Songs check in, but they don’t check out. Once you put music on your iPod, you can’t get it off again with Apple’s software. No recovering your music collection off your iPod if your hard drive crashes.

So now the complaint is that the iPod isn’t an archival device? Well, it’s probably good you’ve got the CDs, then.

The Macalope thinks the real concern would be your iTunes-purchased music and those files can be copied off your iPod and onto another machine. Frankly, the Macalope doesn’t understand why Apple restricts this feature to iTunes-purchased songs. Probably at the behest of the recording industry which assumes any MP3s you have on your iPod must have been stolen in the first place.

What’s more, Apple prevents copying indiscriminately. You can’t copy any music off your iPod.

Not technically true as you can sync your purchases to another authorized machine. But, yes, you can’t copy them off individually.

Apple even applies the no-copying measure to audio released under a Creative Commons license (for example, my own podcasts), which prohibits adding DRM. The Creative Commons situation is inexcusable; because Creative Commons licenses are machine-readable, iTunes could automatically find the C.C.-licensed works and make them available for copying back to your computer.

Apple has “locked” the iPod so you can’t copy any non-DRMed content synced with iTunes off of it, but the files themselves have not been DRMed. You can copy them from machine to machine a variety of other ways, including using the iPod as a hard drive. It’s a rather stupid encumberance, but it’s not exactly keeping people from copying Creative Commons works. It’s really just saying you can’t use iTunes to do it and if you want to play it and copy it, you have to put it on there twice.

Stupid, yes. Evil? Only if you’re incredibly pedantic about DRM.

Videos you buy from the iTunes Store can only be watched on Apple’s products. So every movie you buy from Apple is a tax down the line of switching from Apple to a competing product.

The Macalope’s got to go with him here. This is a piss-poor situation engendered by the recording industry’s ability years ago to control how DVDs and DVD players were designed. The least the industry and Apple could do is allow customers to burn them to a fixed number of DVDs.

Conceptually, spyware and DRM have the same goals: to do something to your computer that you don’t want to happen.

Oh, please. It’s crap like this that makes Doctorow so unbearable on this issue. Does the Macalope need to point out the difference between consensual sex — albeit with someone who you fear may end up being too clingy but, hey, they’re right there and they’re willing and you wouldn’t even have to get up off of the couch or possibly even move — and, well, getting raped?

At the end of the day, DRM is the biggest impediment to a legitimate music market. Apple doesn’t sell music because of DRM — it sells music in spite of DRM.

Indeed.

Doctorow’s strident war against DRM certainly has a goal the Macalope agrees with. But while the horny one is not naive about the motivations behind Jobs’ statement, he also doesn’t think Doctorow helps his own case by stretching the truth to try to scare the kiddies about Apple’s DRM.

Trackbacks Comments
  • “You would have to re-enter all the metadata and for a large number of tracks that’s going to be a huge pain in the ass.”

    partially untrue… at least basic ID3 stuff is there when you burn and re-import… but notably NOT the track number for some reason.

    There is some work to get ALL your tracks as nice as when you bought ‘em, but for most people, the basics are all there.

  • Some day, Cory will be the Malcolm X of DRM.

    That’s not a good thing.

  • Mauro Mello Jr.:

    “Apple may have created a successful “Switch” campaign by reverse-engineering Microsoft products like PowerPoint to make Keynote, an Apple program that lets you run old PowerPoint decks on your Mac”

    Uh? Excuse me, but what is the credibility, technical or otherwise, that someone who perpetrated this argument has?

  • When DRM begins to be a significant problem for me, it will mean I am way too rich and bored. In which case, I’ll be pretty busy drinking expensive scotch and smoking big, fat, hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigars, so I probably won’t worry about it much anyway.

    Seems like there are a lot of calories being burned about a pretty minor problem, to me.

  • Jeff: the Macalope thinks that only works if you buy an entire album and burn it. In which case it’s just downloading the track info again.

    He just tried burning a mixed CD and took it to another machine and it was all TRACK01, TRACK02, etc.

  • philip:

    Macalope, would you be an old timer in this business?. You sound like the “spoon” if you extrapolate that. Your journalism style is showing……

    if so, glad to read your writing again

  • “Videos you buy from the iTunes Store can only be watched on Apple’s products.”

    I’m confused (as usual)… PC users cannot watch movies downloaded from iTunes? Or does this refer to the fact that these downloads cannot be played on a regular DVD player? They cannot be played on a VCR either. They can be copied to a DVD and played on another authorized machine.

  • Clint:

    @ARTMONSTER
    iTunes is an Apple product… so they can watch it in iTunes.
    i think the author was trying to convey that you can’t buy a movie with iTunes and burn it to DVD and put it in your DVD player like you could with an Album from iTunes and a normal CD player. technically I suppose you can via “the Analog Hole” but seriously…

  • matt:

    this reinforces my opinion of doctorow: he’s a great writer. of fiction.

  • Mark U.:

    Doctorow’s complaint that you can’t copy non-DRM’ed music from your iPod back to your computer (or another one) is simply false. There are plenty of applications that let you do just that. It just happens that Apple’s application (iTunes) doesn’t. But Apple doesn’t otherwise restrict the ability to do so. There is a difference between preventing a capability and simply not supplying it. Surely Doctorow is aware of all this. Selectively picking facts to support your argument is a good indicator that you don’t have much of an argument in the first place.

    p.s. Macalope: consensual, not consentual :)

  • Please Cory, tell us how you really feel.

    Cory’s arguement frustrates me to no end and I think it’s the reason for this post. I agree with the end result: DRM’less music being sold on the iTunes Store, but I’m so far from agreeing with his arguements.

    Seems like Cory would be better off with Jason Calacanis’ idea of an open source music player with open source software and a subscription to eMusic.

  • Consent. Consensual.

    No wonder they say English is one of the hardest languages to learn.

    Thanks, Mark!

  • Blain:

    Macalope, would you be an old timer in this business?. You sound like the “spoon” if you extrapolate that
    If so, Jay G Knight (wherever he went) called it. And I stand by my original statement: Until you have proof otherwise, with the Macalope, the Gay Blade, and George Ou photographed together, trust no-one.

    Also: Someone needs to map out all these people and bloggers and pundits. We could put Cory over by Enderle and Cringely. Left field fans: one for open source, one for windows, and one for mac.

  • LKM:

    Two points:

    First, people care less about DRM’d movies than about DRM’s music because they usually buy movies to watch them once. Most often, there’s really not much need to archive a movie and watch it again later. I own about 300 DVDs, 90% of which I’ve watched exactly once. The remaining 10% are those which I haven’t watched at all yet :-)

    Second, Apple actually does intentionally restrict you from copying music back from the iPod. Early versions of iTunes allowed two-way copying, and making the music files invisible on the iPod is pretty much an intentional act.

  • > “Frankly, the Macalope doesn’t understand why Apple restricts this feature to iTunes-purchased songs. Probably at the behest of the recording industry which assumes any MP3s you have on your iPod must have been stolen in the first place.”

    I seem to remember reading that Apple would have got sued if the iPod and iTunes let you easily share MP3s. Remember, the iPod was released in 2001 when MP3 players weren’t anything like ubiquitous. The makers of one of the first MP3 players got sued just for daring to make it, although the suit didn’t succeed: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/photoessay/bringthenoise/index6.html

  • Nick:

    Doctorow: “I’m a lifelong Apple fan boy — I have an actual Mac tattoo”

    Yeah, right, then why make such a damn fuss about switching to Ubuntu Linux?

    http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/technology/archives/2006/07/02/cory_doctorow_says_he_is_also_leaving_mac_os_x_for_ubuntu.html

    I think Doctorow is being a little disingenuous here.

    Actually, I’m using Ubuntu right now and very nice it is, too, but I don’t make an issue about _not_ using OS X (which I prefer) and I haven’t found it necessary to get that little logo of the people holding hands tattooed on my ass.

    If we do get rid of DRM on music, it will be more thanks to Steve Jobs than to a certain little self-publicist.

  • Korivak:

    I used to own a Creative Zen. It was terrible. Now I own an iPod. It’s elegant.

    I used to use WinAmp. It was so-so. Now I use iTunes. It’s wonderful.

    I used to own a PC. It was problematic. Now I own a Mac. It’s delightful.

    Somehow, I think that losing about a hundred dollars of iTMS tracks will be the least of my problems if I switched back to a music platform I specifically left because of lousy quality on every front. I’m no big fan of DRM, but I am a fan of things that just work – and the DRMed tracks on my iPod work better than the open MP3s ever did on my old brick of a Zen.

    In a magic dream world of pure concept, I’d be with Cory Doctorow on this one, but I listen to music in the real world.

  • With all the other problems on the planet; with all the things one must do simply to get through the day; with all the hazards and troubles that face us from moment to moment; all this fuss about DRM seems a little like being the first responder at multi-car, multi-fatality accident, and running around seeing if anyone has boogers showing.

  • Scott:

    I have to agree with RIP RAGGED,

    The “DRM Problem” is the most over-hyped bit trivia to ever come down the pike.

    To Doctorow, The Register, and their followers: The world owes you absolutely nothing for free; get over it. If you don’t like Apple’s DRMed iTunes, don’t buy them – they’re not required in any way to enjoy your iPod. From the numbers of DRMed songs Apple and their competitors are selling, the general public couldn’t care less either and neither could I(and I’m really getting tired of reading about it).

    It really is just that simple.

  • Brian:

    Apple’s DRM is nothing like Microsofts. Apple only applies the DRM where it actually makes sense. It’s trivial to copy songs off an iPod, but it stops at least 80% of the people from doing it. That is just common sense. Apple has real class, they aren’t going to encourage folks to copy music illegially.

    Contrast this to Microsoft. Their DRM is built for subscription. They won’t allow you to share ANYTHING that is put on a Zune without more effort than converting Apple’s DRM files to a non-DRM format.

    This entire ruckus is just an attempt to cause trouble for Apple by a bunch of disgruntled PC geeks that have their shorts in an ever tightening wad as Apple pulls the rug out from under the pathetic ‘PC industry’.

    Boo-hoo, you PeeCee crybabies. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with Apple’s DRM.

  • BOB:

    Doctrow has always been a little bit ape shit about this stuff. I think he’s been reading his own press releases too much. You can always buy the cd’s and rip them in yourself. He forget that the original ipod didnt drm anything. It was after the records deals that drm got added in.

  • Check out the frigtards over at Steve Jobs’ blog:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/2368rq

  • LKM:

    Rip ragged and Scott: You’d think that if there were so many more pressing issues than DRM, you’d have something better to do than post comments on an article about DRM :-P

    “You’re not allowed to talk about X because Y is even worse” is a pretty cheap argument. DRM is a huge issue with regards to our culture, and if you think that this is about “getting something for free,” you’re so utterly missing the point that you might as well be on the moon while the point is on mars. Or something like that.

    If you’re tired of reading about DRM, just stop reading about DRM.

  • I don’t object to discussion of DRM on its merits. I never made a statement of “allowance.” Merely an analogy that in retrospect still seems apt.

    I object to the discussion being so vehement, particularly from the anti-DRM/open-source/set-my-software-free side of the house. DRM is useless and annoying, but it isn’t the spawn of satan. It punishes only those who are honest (or stupid) enough to allow themselves to be punished by it.

    The reality is that the marketplace will eventually settle on a system that is modestly annoying, no more than acceptably overpriced, and inconvenient enough.

    DRM is important to our culture? Only as an indicator. And not a good one.

  • Sigivald:

    LKM: Apple intentionally makes it impossible to copy your non-DRM music off an iPod with iTunes, yes. And intentionally makes it annoying to do so from the Finder in OSX.

    It does not, however, prevent you from doing so.

    (And with third-party software to scan its directory structure and make a nice sorted browser, which I haven’t looked for, but I’m pretty sure must exist, it wouldn’t even be that annoying. If you wanted to do it. Which I never have, having owned an iPod since the 1G models.)

  • Greg Hodge:

    Cory should know that podcasts don’t actually get downloaded from the iTunes store. The podcast listings point to other sites which can choose how to control the content.

    Also, thanks to the music industry’s standard practices that digital downloads are popular at all. Remember, CD’s are higher quality, non DRM, playable across all platforms, etc…BUT the labels actually WANT you to buy the whole album. Artists and labels get ROYALTIES based on sales and they want you to buy all the bad songs with the good one or two. People put up with DRM from iTunes because they prefer to pay 99c for the song they like from Apple instead of $15.99 for the CD.

    Greg

  • holy cow there’s a lots of comments.

    can’t read them all, but regarding burning and re-ripping and metadata:

    what about ‘submit cd track names?’

    you don’t have to reenter the metadata if you, on the computer you burned the mix CD on, after you burned it, clicked on ‘submit CD track names’ or some such. then if you take the mix CD to a different computer the different computer will recongnize it when it queries the CDDB.

    i’ve used this with mix cds for friends before. it works.

  • @Korivak
    I own a Creative Zen, and it is more than adequate for my music needs. And iPod click wheels annoy me.
    I use Winamp and I love it, because it keeps track of my music well and has much more features.
    I own a PC and I can’t imagine owning a Mac – not because I hate macs, but because I can find a program to do just about whatever I want to on it.

    In my experience, people who use Apple products use them because they are simple and easy to use. Which is fine for much of the population. But when there’s a problem, in my experience, it is much harder to get resolved.
    I have no problem with people who use Apple products. But I do have a problem with blind Mac or Apple enthusiasts.

    @Brian
    In fact, Microsoft’s DRM makes a lot more sense than you give them credit for. Granted there’s still “per song” DRM just like Apple’s, but when it comes to subscription, that is maybe the one good reason I can think of for using DRM. For people on a tight budget who don’t own a lot of music, being able to access 2 million songs for $15/month is a good deal. But if there were no DRM then either you would have to create an always-online music streaming player, or the user could subscribe for one month and obtain whatever music he or she wanted, and never have to pay for it again.

    As for the Zune sharing, I would argue that it’s no more difficult than burning a CD and re-ripping it. It’s simply a different process. And no, I don’t think it makes any sense to restrict the Zune sharing the way Microsoft. But the recording studios demand it, just like they demand Apple to DRM their music.

  • I can’t hear any other utopian vision over the utopian vision from my apple products…

    They’re…so…beautiful…

  • Andy:

    “reverse-engineering Microsoft products like PowerPoint to make Keynote, an Apple program that lets you run old PowerPoint decks on your Mac”

    This is a very awkward way of saying that Microsoft uses formats that can be reverse-engineered (legally). So awkward that it just sounds like a straight-up non-sequatious dis against Keynote, characterizing it as some sort of shameless, half-baked ripoff of a Microsoft product. And then he calls PPT files “decks” — a term originating with Apple’s Hypercard. The irony is strong with this one.

  • rbs:

    Nick asked:

    “Doctorow: “I’m a lifelong Apple fan boy — I have an actual Mac tattoo”

    Yeah, right, then why make such a damn fuss about switching to Ubuntu Linux?”

    Because Doctorow makes a big damn fuss about everything.

    He’s always writing about cool new shiny stuff that he’s discovered, and then the day that he finds it’s got some schmutz on it, he goes all chicken little the world has come to an end.

  • Rob:

    errol dwithers said:

    “you don’t have to reenter the metadata if you, on the computer you burned the mix CD on, after you burned it, clicked on ’submit CD track names’ or some such. then if you take the mix CD to a different computer the different computer will recongnize it when it queries the CDDB.”

    So *you’re* the one cluttering the CDDB with entries pointless to everyone but you?

    Knock it off.

  • Actually, Hypercard documents were called stacks.

    Boy, I miss it.

  • Mike:

    “You can copy them from machine to machine a variety of other ways, including using the iPod as a hard drive. It’s a rather stupid encumberance, but it’s not exactly keeping people from copying Creative Commons works. It’s really just saying you can’t use iTunes to do it and if you want to play it and copy it, you have to put it on there twice.”

    So, your excuse is that the feature isn’t *missing*… it’s just hidden and requires special understanding, a multi-step procedure, and/or a piece of third-party software in order to use it.

    What kind of Mac fanboy are you? Did you get hit on the head before you wrote this paragraph, such that you suddenly forgot everything you know about user-centered design? If I tried to make an argument like yours about, say, the iPhone, you’d (justifiably) skewer me. (“The iPhone is nothing special… all of its features have been present on phones for years. You just have to learn the right keypresses, and pay a few additional fees…”)

    A true Mac fanatic knows how to describe software that goes out of its way to obscure the features that users want: “evil”. Doctorow is correct to call the locked iPods “evil”. Do you think, if he were free to speak his mind, Steve Jobs would hesitate to use the word?

  • Actually^2, “decks” is a Microsoft term for PPT files. It’s a hint that someone spends a LOT of time around Microsoft employees.

  • Rip Ragged: “DRM is important to our culture?”

    Yes. Very important because music is being used as a worldwide test case for all future IP… music, video, books, software… this will potentially impact any industry that can be distributed electronically.

    If the outcome is that DRM doesn’t stop piracy, it hurts sales, and it eventually dies, then:
    - We’ll all be able to use our media without hassle.
    - OSs won’t end up like Vista’s deeply penetrating DRM (meaning less battery usage and less CPU needed = more environmentally friendly etc).
    - Everyone can have easier access to works they didn’t write, so creative “mash-ups” are easier (I’m not condoning wholesale theft of ideas, but keep in mind that almost everything is derivative in some form).

    If the outcome is that DRM lives, then:
    - It’s either a major hassle, or minor inconvenience to use content you’ve paid for, depending on the flavour of DRM.
    - It seems like it’s ok for companies to extend the law to control markets. This is quite significant and worth spending time discussing.

    So it’s all much bigger than some middle class nerd not being able to copy a song he bought for his friend.

  • David Durkee:

    I burned a mix disk and ripped it in the same copy of iTunes and definitely got all metadata but the track numbers and counts back. Maybe it has to be ripped back on the same machine for some reason? I was quite surprised at the time. OTOH, maybe it’s different versions of iTunes. I think it was last summer that I tried this. Which illustrates one of the things I don’t like so much about DRMed music: the seller can change the rules on you after the purchase. I still buy it. But I’d be less likely to if I didn’t know I could burn to un-DRMed CDs. By the way, that’s part of the deal that iTunes offers, so I don’t think using it can be considered circumventing the DRM and violating the DMCA. Not a lawyer, though, so I may be unduly swayed by logic.

  • dt:

    “Decks”, hmmm? Maybe the real problem is that Microsoft engineers are spending a LOT of time playing “Magic: the Gathering” during their lunch hour. No wonder Vista shipped late.

  • eric murphy:

    I think a lot of the complaints about not being able to copy music from your iPod are misplaced. And iPod is a method for carrying your entire music collection with you. It’s not a method for copying music from one computer to another. No one has music on their iPod they don’t also have on their computer (unless they haven’t backed up their iTunes library somehow and have suffered a data-loss disaster). So why does one need to copy music off of their iPod? What happened to the copy of it that’s in iTunes. The default behavior for iTunes is to delete any songs on the iPod that are not also in the iTunes library anyway.

    I’m not sure why the inability to copy songs from an iPod back to a computer is seen as a problem.

  • Lettuce:

    Odd that anyone using a PC would complain about this:

    In my experience, people who use Apple products use them because they are simple and easy to use. Which is fine for much of the population. But when there’s a problem, in my experience, it is much harder to get resolved.

    That is so far from being true it’s almost insane.

    Meanwhile, when you ask the average OC user to create a files to transfer folder on their desktop, so they can be transferred to their new Mac, 5 times out of 10 there are no actual files in the folder, only pointers.

    Aaarrrggghhhh

Leave a Comment