13 February 2006

This won't work with that

    Conceit is incompatible with understanding.
      Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

And Apple's DRM is incompatible with Microsoft's DRM.

Digital Rights Management is how digital media vendors are attempting to protect copyrights. In the latest incarnation of VHS vs. Betamax, two competing DRM implementations have arisen. Microsoft is pushing their WMA format and every digital media vendor supports it. Everyone, that is, except Apple, who has their own AAC format that is only available on Apple's iTunes. This is, of course, no surprise, but it's what's got me peeved right now, because I'm getting burned by the incompatible formats.

Compatibility is what drove my purchase of the iPod in the first place. Apple and BMW joined forces to create an adapter that allows you to plug your iPod in to your car, but control it through the factory stereo. Since BMW owns MINI, this option would be available on my Cooper and I went for it. I was a little dubious on the iPod because of Apple's history of locking you into proprietary technology, but I went for it. (I did make sure to rip all my music as regular MP3, so I can play it anywhere.)

Well, now I'm getting burned by the format war. My public library signed on with a statewide service that allows cardholders to download audio books. You check them out, just like a library book, and you have a limited period in which to listen to them before you have to release them. This is accomplished by using a time-limited license on the audio files you download, or in other words, with DRM. Of course, they use Microsoft's DRM. So iPod users can't use their service.

I'm annoyed at everyone in this situation. I'm annoyed at Apple for the way they resist standard formats in favor of locking you into their hardware. I'm annoyed at Microsoft for their monolithic approach to DRM, strong arming the industry. I'm annoyed at the software company behind this audiobook service for shutting out the largest segment of digital music players.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck forking over another $15 to Audible for a service I should be getting for free. Oh, yeah, I'm annoyed at Audible because they don't have Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books.

I'm just annoyed....


Rob said...

DRM sucks, but it's a fact of life. I guess the Microsoft DRM locks you from burning the files to a CD?

At least there are ways around Apple's DRM. The jHymn project unlocks the DRM and converts the Apple files to in the clear MP3s - but it only works if you haven't upgraded to iTunes 6. Otherwise you can do what I have been doing - burning the Apple files to CD and re-ripping them. At least Apple gives you that option, and if you do it right away, it will even hold on to the track names and info - all you need to do is copy/paste the album art. Supposedly there is a loss of quality, but I played the two files back to back and I could not hear the difference.

So at least Apple is slightly less evil then MS - in this case.


Andrew said...

Microsoft DRM also lets you burn CDs. The problem is that the audio files are too large to burn to a traditional Audio CD that you could re-rip, so no luck there.

In general, I welcome DRM. I think music vendors need to be able to prevent piracy. As long as fair use is supported, I have not problem with it.

I also think DRM is a great way to make this online audiobook library work. Without DRM, it would never work.

As for Apple, I place them in the "more evil" category myself. If you buy an iPod, you are locked into iTunes and Apple works aggressively to keep it that way.

Rob said...

Actually - I checked out the Overdrive Software which works in conjunction with the audiobook library on ListenNJ. It does specify in the license that the audio books can't be burned to CD. The files I got were each a 67 minute long file - so that indicates to me they were pretty much each a CD's worth. But no burning allowed.

There are plenty of shareware and freeware alternatives to iTunes if you want to stay away from it altogether. But I think burning and reimporting is the easiest way to buy the music, and still keep it DRM free. If I ever chose to not use an iPod, I would still have everything useable as MP3s.

DRM is useful in many instances - but I think it can piss off consumers as much as it helps prevent piracy - and it's just not preventing that much piracy to begin with. Unfortunately, stats on all this are hard to find - because you have to find people who are willing to admit to piracy - which is hard to do.


Andrew said...

Burning is allowed for some titles - it depends. See this question in the FAQ. It depends on what the publisher is willing to allow.

The burn-then-rip strategy works, to a point. There is data loss in the format changes. Whether you can notice is negligible, however.

The key to DRM is to ensure that it enables fair use of the media.

For example, good DRM is stopping someone from listenning to an audiobook when it has been returned to the library. This is consistent with the library model, and works the same as a book would.

Bad DRM is the MediaMax crap that Sony put on the CDs they sell.