Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Resonse to Steve Jobs

I read Steve Jobs' little diatribe about DRM that I posted the other day, and initially I was impressed by his openness about the subject and thought that he made some valid points. And then I thought about it a little bit more and found several holes in his tale of whoa about the corner that apple has been painted in with music-industry-required DRM. This all really came to light for me when I just recently bought a Creative Zen Vision M media player (pictured on the left).

You see, he makes claims that Apple's specific DRM and protecting it involves keeping secrets. He says that if they were to license out the DRM to other stores it would be harder to keep those secrets, the DRM encryption would be comprimised and the major record labels would pull out of the store. He cites their model of DRM as being comparable to Microsoft's Zune store, and Sony's store for their player. He says these companies need specific stores for their specific products because of this secrecy problem. The problem with this argument is that he completely fails to mention of the half dozen stores that support DOZENS of different players from a host of manufactures. One prime example being Napster. I signed up with Napster when I got my Zen, because first of all they gave me a free 30 day subscription, and secondly becuase of course the Zen was one of over 30 players supported by the stores' DRM.

Ok, so now I'll be completely honest about Napster, it's good, but's not great. I have the subscription service that advertised as being able to download anything from the store to an unlimted extent, the only catch is you have to maintain your subscription to have access to the songs transfered to your device. I thought-ok, I can live with that, I listen to enough music that this is a good deal. But I quickly found out that I don't have access to ALL the songs napster has in it's store, but about 90-95% of them. The remaining are "Buy Only". While with most albums this isn't a problem, I keep running into situation where I can download the entire albums except for 1 or 2 tracks and that drives me nuts. So i'm considering switching to yahoo or rhapsody, and I can do this, because I don't have an ipod (anymore). WMA DRM is used by several stores, so I have options. Apple's M4p DRM is used by one store, if you have an ipod and you want to buy tracks online, you gotta buy from apple, end of story. Steve also points out that music sales are still 90% driven by CDs, which are for the most part DRM free, so the argument that you don't have music buying choices is not valid. This is true, Steve, but if online music buying weren't such a hassle, that ratio would change in a heart-beat (also, illegal trading would drop even more I suspect). I personally don't want to buy cds anymore. To me, buying CDs would be like a personal who buys CDs all them time having to buy Cassettes because of frustrating music buying hurdles.

So the question becomes, why does the top online music download store, sell tracks that only work on one device? Steve wants you to believe it's because of the security reasons, but then why can Napster, Rhapsody, and Yahoo (amoung others) share a DRM model if it's soooo dangerous to do so? Why is it that apple itself only accepts 1 DRM model and mp3s? Apple's actions speak louder than Steve's words. It's all about driving IPOD sales with it's popular Itunes store, and driving Itunes song sales with their popular IPOD. They beleive they've got the consumer trapped in their vortex, and so far they have.

Sure, if everything was DRM-free life would be a lot simpler. But, things would also be a lot simpler if Ipods supported, WMA's or Itunes sold WMA's, or Apple licensed out their DRM model.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Steve Jobs' Thoughts on Music

Steve Jobs
February 6, 2007

With the stunning global success of Apple’s iPod music player and iTunes online music store, some have called for Apple to “open” the digital rights management (DRM) system that Apple uses to protect its music against theft, so that music purchased from iTunes can be played on digital devices purchased from other companies, and protected music purchased from other online music stores can play on iPods. Let’s examine the current situation and how we got here, then look at three possible alternatives for the future.

To begin, it is useful to remember that all iPods play music that is free of any DRM and encoded in “open” licensable formats such as MP3 and AAC. iPod users can and do acquire their music from many sources, including CDs they own. Music on CDs can be easily imported into the freely-downloadable iTunes jukebox software which runs on both Macs and Windows PCs, and is automatically encoded into the open AAC or MP3 formats without any DRM. This music can be played on iPods or any other music players that play these open formats.

The rub comes from the music Apple sells on its online iTunes Store. Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.

Apple was able to negotiate landmark usage rights at the time, which include allowing users to play their DRM protected music on up to 5 computers and on an unlimited number of iPods. Obtaining such rights from the music companies was unprecedented at the time, and even today is unmatched by most other digital music services. However, a key provision of our agreements with the music companies is that if our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store.

To prevent illegal copies, DRM systems must allow only authorized devices to play the protected music. If a copy of a DRM protected song is posted on the Internet, it should not be able to play on a downloader’s computer or portable music device. To achieve this, a DRM system employs secrets. There is no theory of protecting content other than keeping secrets. In other words, even if one uses the most sophisticated cryptographic locks to protect the actual music, one must still “hide” the keys which unlock the music on the user’s computer or portable music player. No one has ever implemented a DRM system that does not depend on such secrets for its operation.

The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music. They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game. Apple’s DRM system is called FairPlay. While we have had a few breaches in FairPlay, we have been able to successfully repair them through updating the iTunes store software, the iTunes jukebox software and software in the iPods themselves. So far we have met our commitments to the music companies to protect their music, and we have given users the most liberal usage rights available in the industry for legally downloaded music.

With this background, let’s now explore three different alternatives for the future.

The first alternative is to continue on the current course, with each manufacturer competing freely with their own “top to bottom” proprietary systems for selling, playing and protecting music. It is a very competitive market, with major global companies making large investments to develop new music players and online music stores. Apple, Microsoft and Sony all compete with proprietary systems. Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry, and customers are being well served with a continuing stream of innovative products and a wide variety of choices.

Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store – they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.

Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.

The second alternative is for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM technology to current and future competitors with the goal of achieving interoperability between different company’s players and music stores. On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future. And Apple might benefit by charging a small licensing fee for its FairPlay DRM. However, when we look a bit deeper, problems begin to emerge. The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute. Such leaks can rapidly result in software programs available as free downloads on the Internet which will disable the DRM protection so that formerly protected songs can be played on unauthorized players.

An equally serious problem is how to quickly repair the damage caused by such a leak. A successful repair will likely involve enhancing the music store software, the music jukebox software, and the software in the players with new secrets, then transferring this updated software into the tens (or hundreds) of millions of Macs, Windows PCs and players already in use. This must all be done quickly and in a very coordinated way. Such an undertaking is very difficult when just one company controls all of the pieces. It is near impossible if multiple companies control separate pieces of the puzzle, and all of them must quickly act in concert to repair the damage from a leak.

Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies. Perhaps this same conclusion contributed to Microsoft’s recent decision to switch their emphasis from an “open” model of licensing their DRM to others to a “closed” model of offering a proprietary music store, proprietary jukebox software and proprietary players.

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries. Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free. For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard. The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company. EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company. Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Nerd Score

Apparently I'm much more nerdy than I originally suspected.

I am nerdier than 82% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Captain America's Sheild

ID Vid Again

I liked the "Collapse of Intelligent Design" Lecture by Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University so much, I decided to snag the actual video from youtube and post it here for download. Internet streaming videos have a tendency to be non-permanent; So for those interested in the subject I thought it would be nice to have a permanent copy for yourself.

Click Here to Download

You'll need the FLV (Flash Video) player to watch it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

24 on Blog Critics

Check out this highly amusing review of season 6 episode 13 (last night), on Blog Critics

Monday, March 12, 2007

I was in denial at first, but now...

Captain America has been killed in the aftermath of the Marvel Civil war on the steps of the federal courthouse by a sniper (and also, perhaps aided by one of his own).

At first I was in denial about it, but apparently marvel has confirmed that yes, he is in fact dead and there is no plot trickery present in order to keep him alive. Here's what CNN had to say about it:

"NEW YORK (CNN) -- He fought and triumphed over Hitler, Tojo, international Communism and a host of supervillains, but he could not dodge a sniper's bullet.

Comic book hero Captain America is dead.

After close to 60 years in print, Marvel Comics has killed off Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, one of its most famous and beloved superheroes amid an already controversial story line, "Civil War," which is pitting the heroes of Marvel's universe against one another.

In the comic series, Rogers was to stand trial for defying a superhero registration law passed after a hero's tragic mistake causes a 9/11-like event.

Steve Rogers eventually surrenders to police. He is later mortally wounded as he climbs the courthouse steps. (Watch the story of an American hero Video)

Marvel says the comic story line was intentionally written as an allegory to current real-life issues like the Patriot Act, the War on Terror and the September 11 attacks.

"Every child knew about 9/11," says Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Comics. "If [he] could see a TV he knew what 9/11 was. The other similarities [to] things going on are just part of storytelling."

It was a violent and strange end for an American hero.

Captain America first appeared in 1941, just as the United States entered World War II. He was a symbol of American strength and resolve in fighting the Axis powers, and later Communism.

As originally conceived by creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Rogers was a man born before the Great Depression in a very different America. He disappeared after the war and reappeared only recently in the Marvel timeline. For a superhero many thought perfect, it was perhaps a fatal flaw for "Cap," as he became known.

"He hasn't been living in the modern world and the world does move," says Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada.

Quesada said he wanted to readers find their own meaning in Cap's end.

"There is a lot to be read in there. But I'm not one who is going to tell people, this is what you should read into it, because I could look into it and read several different types of messages," he told CNN.

The character's death came as a blow to co-creator Simon, the Associated Press reported.

"We really need him now," Simon, 93, told The AP.

Still, one has to wonder: Is Captain America really dead? Comic book characters have routinely died, only to be resurrected when necessary to storylines.

Joe Quesada agrees -- but said times are different now.

"There was period in comics where characters would just die and then be resurrected. And the death had very little meaning and the resurrection had very little meaning," he said. "All I ask of my writers is if you're going to kill a character off, please let that death have some meaning in the overall scope of things."

Besides, he said, there are other important questions left unanswered.

"What happens with the costume? And what happens to the characters that are friends and enemies of Cap?" Quesada said with a smile. "You're going to have to read the books to find out." "

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Civil War Fallout

The Marvel Civil War has at last come to a close. The result wasn't what everyone was initially hoping for. That's right, Tony Stark's pro-registration movement won. At least the Secret Avengers busted most of the captured heroes out of the negative zone prison.

Honestly, I'm not really at all surprised by the result; the story had a point, Tony Stark had a point, and eventually Captain America saw that. Growing up I always wondered how it was that these heroes got away with tearing up the city to fight what was usually just personal battles. In the end, Cap looks around at all the destruction they've caused from their last stand with Iron Man and he just gives himself up. Not everyone was on board with that decision but everyone follows his orders to stand down. Some kind of temporary amnesty thing happened with the rest of caps team, I'm not sure what that was about, but they were allowed to escape I think was the point.

Over in Spider-Man's world, Aunt May's been shot and he's back in his black costume as he's forced to go underground now.

I'm really excited about the Avengers titles coming out of all of this. We've got The Might Avengers starting anew with Carol Danvers as the leader, the Sentry still on board, Ares, Wonder-Man and few other favorites. The New Avengers are still hanging around with a slightly modified lineup. We've got Doctor Strange added now, but of course we're down Captain America, Iron Man, and the Sentry.

All in all it's been a wild ride, and a good one. The next major thing from Marvel I'm looking forward to is "World War Hulk" coming this summer. Hulk returns to earth after the "Planet Hulk" story and exacts some revenge on the bastards that exiled him (Reed Richards, Tony Stark). Looks to be another good year in comics.