Sonos responds to Declaration of InDRMpendence

Sonos responds to Declaration of InDRMpendence

Summary: Late last week, I was inspired to write a Declaration of InDRMpendence (declaring my freedom from Digital Restrictions Management [DRM] technology) by my good friend who mistakenly recommended Sonos' wireless-mesh based whole home audio system.  He was certain that it could play all of the songs he's purchased through iTunes as long as he hooked on Sonos device to one of the PCs in his house running iTunes.


Late last week, I was inspired to write a Declaration of InDRMpendence (declaring my freedom from Digital Restrictions Management [DRM] technology) by my good friend who mistakenly recommended Sonos' wireless-mesh based whole home audio system.  He was certain that it could play all of the songs he's purchased through iTunes as long as he hooked on Sonos device to one of the PCs in his house running iTunes. 

"Jim" was about to drop $500 per room to set up his house until I found one line on a page on Sonos' Web site that's the perfect proof point of all that is wrong with DRM technology.  Sonos' gear won't work with certain types of "DRMed" music. Not from the iTunes music store. Not from from any of the Microsoft-authorized PlaysForSure music stores. It will work with RealNetworks' Rhapsody service (yet another DRM technology that's incompatible with the others and is only compatible with certain devices).  But to playback music that has been DRMed with either Apple or Microsoft's DRM technologies (the two 800 lb DRM gorillas), innovative companies like Sonos must re-engineer their products to support those technologies.  But before they can do that, Apple and Microsoft must first agree to license their DRM technologies to Sonos, and then, Sonos must pay those companies a DRM tax for the privilege of letting its customers play music from their online music stores.  For example, Microsoft has a page on its Web site that spells out the per unit and annual fee licensing options for its DRM technology. My Declaration found its way to Sonos' executives and here's the response I got:

Many thanks for including us in your recent blog post titled "Declaration of InDRMpendence." 

For the sake of clarity on our end, you have nailed our position with Apple's "FairPlay".   Currently, Microsoft's "PlayForSure" technology doesn't support multi-room listening.  The DRM is designed for "single zone" listening environments such as portable players, a computer, or a burned CD.  Microsoft has assured us that they will be designing the next rendition of "PlayForSure" to be compatible with multi-room listening.  When they do, we will add support for it immediately.

Thanks for your time sir. 

Thomas L. Meyer
Manager, Public Relations
Sonos, Inc.

Thank you Mr. Meyer for coming forward.

First of all, if I haven't been clear already about my position on DRM, then here's a reminder. On it's current path, particularly with the way Congress is involved, DRM is a train wreck. I believe that copyright holders are entitled to get paid for their content if that's their business model. However, the DRM technology that's being used to enforce that payment has gone too far.  Not only is it being used to unfairly restrict our rights to the content that we'd otherwise have legal access to, it's being used as a market control point that stifles innovation and that could foreclose on competitors.  For example, why must Sonos wait for a willing licensor of DRM technology to fix the specification to support its multi-room architecture -- an architecture that's clearly within the rights of Sonos' customers to use with the music they've legally acquired. 

If we must have DRM, then its application must be rethought and there should be a single open standard for it that everyone complies with.  If such an open standard existed and everyone complied with it, not only would Sonos be free to contribute code to that specification to make it work with its architecture today, it wouldn't have to pay a tax to anyone to implement that standard, nor would Sonos customers be restricted to a la carte buying of their music from one type of music store (as they will be when and if Sonos does get to support PlaysForSure).  The conditions under which Sonos and other entertainment gear manufacturers are being forced to operate are dangerously monopolistic.

[Update: Jim has purchased the Sonos setup anyway. He loves it.  He's also ponying up to subscribe to Rhapsody's subscription service which is a lot like Yahoo's in that it offers access to an unlimited number of songs.  But as soon as you stop subscribing, you lose access to the music.  He says it's like living in a radio station.  But, when I asked about using that DRMed music in other places and on other devices, he said "Yeah, that's a problem.  So, if I come across something I really like, I'll just buy the CD."  In other words, pay twice for the music.  One problem: DRM is already here for CDs too.]

Topic: Legal

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  • A bit puzzled.

    Would not an open DRM standard break both the stated and implied purpose of DRM in general? The stated purpose is to prevent piracy. But with a single standard, particularly an open one, is a single point of failure for DRMed material in regards to cracking. Piracy being an illegal activity anyway, would the pirates really care that they are violating the DMCA in cracking the DRM? The implied purpose is to infringe upon customer fair use rights in order to increase payment. If everyone was freely able to impliment the standard, how would content managers maintain control of their content?

    My new phrase to stab at RIAA, DRM is fair-use infringement.
    • On open DRM standards...

      As I've said many times already, we need a rethink on DRM before we need anything else. But, short of such a rethink, an open, royalty-free standard with which everyone complies would undo many of the evils that the status quo has afforded us. Maybe we'll get there by way of some unlikely partners (for example (the record labels are beginning to dig their heels in against Microsoft and Apple). But, even if such a standard comes, every DRMed song we buy between now and that point will make its deployment and usage that much more troublesome.


  • Well David..... I mean "duh"! (Nothing personal)

    Not a criticism of you, but....

    Did you ever expect it to ever be anything different? Microsoft, the RIAA/MPAA creeps and other corporate types will always push things as far as they possibly can, ethical or not, as long as they think they can get away with it. In this case, since the morons in Congress have not only allowed it, but seem to be encouraging it, the abuses are only going to get worse.

    I rarely buy music CD's anymore and just do with what I already have. Same is true with DVD's. I expect that as time goes on, my purchases will stop completely. I won't be controlled by corporate slimebags. For those that can't seem to stop throwing your money at these weasels, well, good luck to you.

    >>Not only is it being used to unfairly restrict our rights to the content that we'd otherwise have legal access to, it's being used as a market control point that stifles innovation and that could foreclose on competitors. <<
  • My solution

    ...has always been to listen to the radio. It's free. And a lot more stations to choose from. And even more through the internet.

    I'm NOT buying the same encumbered music over and over again.
    • Not free...

      Those pesky commercial and reception glitches are the cost of reception. I'm not an audiophile. In fact, my music tastes are abysmal. Are they Bells really going to be up in arms for their lack of royalties for my MP3 version of "Stay Awhile"? They were already paid for my 45 copy thirty years ago.

      The only reason "way back when" I downloaded MP3s was to replicate my existing favorite titles in a handy format to hear while I worked at my computer, without interrupting received phonecalls by walking over to the CD player to lower the volume. My home system was too underpowered at the time to handle the conversion from jacked-in WAV captures.

      I stopped buying CDs. I own those records [if not the rights]. If I want to transfer them for my convenience, that's my business.

      When I did download, I turned off output and/or emptied the default share folder.

      JJ Brannon
    • Nice solution but,

      It doesn't change the fact that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is actually stripping us of the fair use rights we already have nor does it address your appetite for other forms of digital content (text, video) which will undoubtedly share the the plight of audio/music. It's good that you're voting with your dollars. That's an important step. But what are you going to do about your rights as an American? When will you and others stand up for your rights? Or, are we just going to get steamrolled until we're back to burning books and denying our rights to open a fully stocked library. Oh, oops. We're already there (ref: Yahoo, Google).
      • Boycotting's message.

        Reductions in sales buttress the content companies' assertion that piracy is reducing their business, and stronger laws and more Federal resources must be implemented to stop it.

        The problem with a boycott is, it doesn't have a positive statement associated with it.

        So you're right.

        But if you do complain, you're competing with a substantial industry, and by implication allying yourself with the people who support piracy intellectually.

        Guilt by implication (and association) is a false premise, but one that comes easily to people whose feeling have been engaged.

        Many people elected to Congress, those who care most about the issues, have had their feelings engaged.

        It is a mess, you're right about that, too.
        Anton Philidor
        • Your voice can be heard!

          The US Copyright Office is holding its third set of hearings on
          anticircumvention exceptions. This is something you can
          participate in by submitting, in writing, your thoughts on what
          should and shouldn't be allowed as far as exemptions for
          circumventing copy protection. The EFF has an article on this
          process and notes:

          But unlike letters to congressional offices, these public
          comments are truly read by the people who make the policy.
          That is in fact one of the most astonishing aspects visible in the
          text of the earlier rulemaking results. The policy-maker may not
          have agreed with the arguments, may in fact have dismissed
          them; but there's enough referencing and mention of the
          reasons for the results so as to make it clear that the viewpoints
          of the public were heard. And this consideration doesn't even
          require a large bribe, I mean, campaign contribution. Not all
          parts of the government are equally inaccessible. It turns out
          these policy-making determinations are surprisingly amenable
          to informed citizens making a difference.

          So if you feel strongly, join me and write a letter and let them
          know your thoughts:

          tic swayback
          • Not easy though..

            Tic, thanks for the link. I plan to blog it in my goal to do something DRM-related every day (keeping my thumb on what I think to be a very important civil disobedience button). But go ahead and read all of the documents that they lead you to. The language isn't in layman's terms. For example.. it took me a while (maybe I'm lame), an exemption on a prohibition on the conduct of circumvention. Holy cow. Put it in English for me. Where's the one paragraph sound byte that says the Library of Congress is reconsidering what types of copying it should allow, here's what they are, and here's the best case scenario that can become of these deliberations. Also, here's five sample outlines you can pick from to give you a head start on presenting your opinion to the Congress." Of course, as one who is known for brevity (NOT), I should be one to talk.

      • David, it sounds like you have a problem with

        unfettered capitalism. Unfortunately, it's not really unfetterd, it's encumbered with all sorts of rules. He who has the most cash makes the rules.
        • Socialist protectionism

          I'd argue that the DMCA is a hindrance to real capitalism.
          Companies like Lexmark and whatever the garage door opener firm
          was, are trying to use the DMCA to prevent competition. Shouldn't
          a capitalist system have an open playing field where there's real
          competition, and the best product/business model wins? To me,
          this smacks of government intrusion, favoring one competitor over
          tic swayback
          • Yes. But it doesn't work that way.

            Everyone talks a good game, but none of them want real competition.
  • Microsoft the winner.

    You wrote that neither Apple's nor Microsoft's DRM works with Sonos.

    The message received from Sonos responds:

    For the sake of clarity on our end, you have nailed our position with Apple's "FairPlay".
    Microsoft has assured us that they will be designing the next rendition of "PlayForSure" to be compatible with multi-room listening. When they do, we will add support for it immediately.

    The message doesn't say that Sonos will add support for Apple's FairPlay.

    If Sonos will not support Apple's DRM, that would be consistent with what I'm expecting to see happen next.

    You've written a lot about Microsoft's "media juggernaut".

    Apple has argued with the music companies, and contract negotiations have been difficult.
    You also quoted someone in the music industry recently as saying he couldn't make an agreement with Apple.

    Soon there will be only one 800 lb gorilla in the DRM business.

    It will be Microsoft.

    And then you will have the standard you want.

    An open standard?
    The bigger issue is whether open source software will be allowed to play content at all. The content industry is suspicious of the "community" which produces all those talented hackers.
    Anton Philidor
    • History (business models) repeat themselves

      It *is* interesting that Apple has once again kept its technology almost entirely to itself while Microsoft prefers to aggressively license in hopes of a feeding frenzy. I seem to recall that Apple was first to market before (remember the Apple IIs?). Unless Apple decides to more aggressively license, it'll could be Mac and Windows all over again. Microsoft is very focused on getting a broadly adopted foundation in place. It's head start on the portable video front (Apple is rumored to be releasing a video iPod very shortly) has played a role in lining up some partners with significant reach and market penetration (eg: cellcos). But all is not perfect for Microsoft. For example, the Register's Tony Smith just reported (by way of the fee-based Wall St. Journal) that talks have broken down between Microsoft and several major record labels.

      • Yes.

        The content companies are also following their history of resisting a new distribution technology that will eventually make substantial profits for them.

        Apple does want insular control while Microsoft attempts to obtain the mass market. You're right.

        But in this case the market is not the public. It's the content companies. The ability to succeed is not based on the public response, which will at best be neutral. (And that neutrality will have to be retained by continuous careful tweaking of the restrictions.)

        Apple definitely has a difficult relationship with the content companies.
        On the pricing issue, they're also probably right. The internet appears to be a volume business responsive to price.
        But which side is right makes no difference because the buyer is in full control when contracts have to be negotiated. There is no real competing source.

        Do you have a link to the article about the dispute between Microsoft and the content companies? That's significant.
        Thanks for the time saved.
        Anton Philidor
        • oops (doh).. here's the link

          meant to provide that before...
          • That article doesn't seem to be on topic.

            Here's a quote:
            Microsoft has been expected to begin offering a music subscription service alongside those already offered by the likes of Napster, Yahoo!, Virgin Digital, HMV and others. According to the WSJ sources, now that licensing talks are over, the service won't be launched.

            The music services wanted too much money per subscriber/month.

            But what does this have to do with Microsoft as a DRM provider?
            Anton Philidor
          • sure it is,..

            what good is your DRM if none of the content providers want to use it? Microsoft needs the content deals to penetrate the market with its media technologies.

      • Still there is a HUGE difference between now and then

        MS got it's blessing/start in the OS world from IBM. Back in that
        day IBM was considered well the GOD of the business/tech world
        and what ever IBM said was LAW! That has changed for IBM
        considerably and many people tend to forget how it was way
        back when.

        There is no such God like entity for Music and it's distribution at
        this present time. In fact I suppose I could make the arguement
        that Apple is the closest thing to that type of being now..but I
        will not cause even with Apple's status in the world of music
        downloads she still does not have the cache that IBM once had.

        So now it should be far more interesting to see how this batle
        plays out...MS with no IBM blessing (basically handing the PC
        world to MS on a silve platter) One has to admit that in and of
        itself is a big help to any company. Also something Apple did
        not do with her PC's that she is doing with the iPod and iTunes is
        finding partners such as Moto, and car companies and others.

        Pagan jim
        • Jim, the controlling "entity" for content...

          ... is the content companies as a group. If they anoint a single DRM standard, that is the standard. Their authority is more complete than IBM's at the company's most powerful.
          Anton Philidor