They Did It Again
the Einsteins who ran the major record companies in the 1980s
adopted the Phillips compact disc technology as the new media
of choice, they thought they had the bull by the horns. The
industry had finally found a way around the copying dilemma,
and the evil cassette tape that it had fought so long and
hard to banish from the earth. The record companies were sure
that CDs were copy-proof; now, if some impetuous individual
had the temerity to want a copy of a song on their shiny new
CD, well . . . they’d have to go buy a new CD! Perfect.
Things didn’t exactly work out as planned. Along comes the
personal computer and the Internet and before you know it,
folks are ripping and burning and trading songs in a hot monkey-love
orgy of what the record companies would call infringement,
and what the rest of us would call a shared communal cultural
exercise . . . or something.
But the industry, of course, hasn’t given up. One thing it
seems fixated on is the idea that CDs can be copy- protected,
that by inserting little digital bogeymen into the CD, folks
will be unable to rip, burn and copy songs.
Most recently, BMG Sony has unleashed its latest attempt at
copy protection. Apparently, if you play the new Dave Matthews
CD on your CD player, everything’s fine, but if you stick
it in your PC, strange things happen. You are required to
agree to an end-user agreement that sets out the terms and
conditions by which you will listen to Dave Matthews. You
then have to download some special software that apparently
configures your computer in a certain way that BMG Sony thinks
is appropriate for your Dave Matthews listening experience.
And then you are allowed to burn the disk exactly once.
Try to burn the disk a second time and your cat blows up.
Well, maybe not that, but it won’t work. And, on top of all
this, the one copy you are allowed to burn is incompatible
with the iPod system. So, if you want the unspeakable luxury
of listening to the new Dave Matthews on your iPod, you’ll
have to buy it again from iTunes.
This is how it’s supposed to work, anyway. Blogger Chris Breen
of the Web site Playlistmag.com reports that there’s a small
problem with Sony BMG’s latest gambit: It doesn’t work on
a Mac. Despite claims to the contrary, if you stick the new
Dave Matthews CD into an Apple computer, it behaves like a
CD should: no terms and conditions; no burn just once limitation;
no cats blowing up. Like you need another reason to buy a
And, as Breen points out, it’s just a matter of time—most
likely a few minutes time—before some 12-year-old boy unravels
the rest of the system.
He’s right. This is just the latest in a long history of the
record companies trying to lock up music—they’ve failed every
time and they will keep failing. Every time some ludicrous
copy-protection scheme is unleashed on the world, some kid
in a suburban bedroom or a college dorm codes around it. A
few years ago, the industry spent millions of dollars spearheading
what it called the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI),
boasting that this was going to be the killer app. After months
of meetings, conferences, missed deadlines, and ridiculous
boasts, SDMI released its be-all end-all copy-protection technology
and dared the hacker community to break it, offering a prize
to anyone who could. A few days later a college professor
announced he would present a simple hack-around to SDMI’s
technology at a scholarly conference. Rather than give him
the prize, the music industry threatened to sue him. SDMI
quietly folded shortly thereafter.
Other more recent multi-million-dollar super-secret copy-protection
schemes have been undone by blackening the out rim of a disk
with a Sharpie, and by holding the control button of the computer
down while the disk is loading into a computer. Really.
Like someone said in 2000 during the first Napster go-round:
Information doesn’t want to be free. That’s just crazy. Everybody
knows information really wants to be $15.98.