With Microsoft sucked into a DRM cat-n-mouse deathmatch, is Zune doomed?

With Microsoft sucked into a DRM cat-n-mouse deathmatch, is Zune doomed?

Summary: While I was away on vacation, I caught George Ou's blog on how Microsoft's digital rights management (DRM) copy protection technology (currently, the lynch-pin to its PlaysForSure ecosystem, and undoubtedly a foundational piece to its new iPod-killing Zune initiative) had been rendered useless by developers of the FairUse4WM "utility." FairUse4M strips copy-protected Windows Media content of its copy protection and  could bring down a very large house of cards at Microsoft.

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TOPICS: Apple
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While I was away on vacation, I caught George Ou's blog on how Microsoft's digital rights management (DRM) copy protection technology (currently, the lynch-pin to its PlaysForSure ecosystem, and undoubtedly a foundational piece to its new iPod-killing Zune initiative) had been rendered useless by developers of the FairUse4WM "utility." FairUse4M strips copy-protected Windows Media content of its copy protection and  could bring down a very large house of cards at Microsoft.

Bear in mind that using something like FairUse4WM is a violation of the DRM circumvention provisions [sic] in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both).  Apple has masterfully cornered the DRM market... and Microsoft wants in... Also, many intellectual property lawyers will tell you that, contrary to popular belief, being able to make full-blown copies of the content you've licensed (and that's what you do when you buy a CD) is not an issue of fair use.  At least as far as the commonly accepted definition of fair use is concerned. So the utility's name is a bit of a misnomer (although I can think of no better name).

But none of that is going to stop people from using it which is why the minute I saw this story, I envisioned the near war room conditions that were scrambled together in Redmond in hopes of limiting the damage. One only need look at Apple's success over the last few years to understand why the company with the biggest key to the DRM kingdom wins. And by wins, I means wins everything. 

Apple's DRM -- called FairPlay (but I call it "UnFairPlay") -- is the stuff that the walls surrounding the garden containing the iTunes software, iTunes Music Store (iTMS), and iPod troika are made of.  It's a razors and blades strategy that's just a bit different from others like it in that the blades (the playback devices) are significantly more expensive than the razors (songs, videos, etc.) and the razors last forever (or, at least they should).  Once you're in Apple's walled-garden, FairPlay makes it relatively impossible to get out (without huge sacrifice), thus ensuring a long term legacy of profits for Apple.  Owners of content purchased at the iTMS must forever buy devices and software manufactured or sanctioned by Apple to play that content back and those devices and software are incapable of playing back protected content from sources like Yahoo, Napster, or whatever Microsoft comes up with for Zune. In other words, you either buy original media (eg: a full-blown CD) from your favorite retailer (Amazon, F.Y.E., etc.) and rip it (a painfully friction-laden process) or you take the path of least resistance by buying it from iTMS. 

Apple has masterfully cornered the DRM market (even though most people don't realize that there's a market for DRM in which they're participating) and Microsoft wants in because every day that goes by where another FairPlay-protected piece of content enters the market and a corresponding one protected with Microsoft's DRM doesn't is another day that seals the long term fate of both companies. Good for Apple. Not so good for Microsoft.  The PlaysForSure ecosystem was designed to do to FairPlay what Windows did to the Mac: let a commoditizing bloodbath between technology licensees drive down prices and drive up the marketshare of the underlying technology.  It didn't work and now, with Zune (where Microsoft will be making the hardware), the company is back to square one and looking to take on Apple on a turf that Apple knows best.

Without a bulletproof DRM scheme though, Zune itself could be in trouble. If I'm any one of the content providers (movies studios, record labels, etc.) thinking about entering the Zune ecosystem, then I've already placed my call to Microsoft looking for assurances that the FairUse4WM hack is nothing more than a bump in the road.  But, if after receiving those assurances, I read Bruce Schneier's most recent blog, I would have a very unsettled feeling in my stomach right about now.  Wrote Schneier:

Last week, a hacker developed an application called FairUse4WM that strips the copy protection from Windows Media DRM 10 and 11 files.....So Microsoft wasted no time; it issued a patch three days after learning about the hack.....It should surprise no one that the system didn't stay patched for long. FairUse4WM 1.2 gets around Microsoft's patch, and also circumvents the copy protection in Windows Media DRM 9 and 11beta2 files....That was Saturday. Any guess on how long it will take Microsoft to patch Media Player once again? And then how long before the FairUse4WM people update their own software?...Certainly much less time than it will take Microsoft and the recording industry to realize they're playing a losing game, and that trying to make digital files uncopyable is like trying to make water not wet.

"Make water not wet." I wish I had a way with words like that because that's exactly what this is about.  Actually, Schneier does an even better job putting the lunacy of DRM from the content consuming side in perspective:

....this isn't a "vulnerability" in the normal sense of the word: digital rights management is not a feature that users want. Being able to remove copy protection is a good thing for some users, and completely irrelevant for everyone else. No user is ever going to say: "Oh no. I can now play the music I bought for my computer in my car. I must install a patch so I can't do that anymore."

As hard as I've tried, in all my spewing about DRM (otherwise known as CRAP — Cancellation, Restriction, And Punishment), I've never been able to so clearly articulate its unique selling proposition like that. Well-said Bruce.  And, while we're on the subject of patching, this is yet another problem with DRM.  In the futile attempt to stay one step ahead of DRM hackers like the developers of FairUse4M, there's only so much patching you can do until you have to rewire the entire system altogether making backwards compatibility a pipe dream.  In other words, something in the playback chain ends up breaking so that you're either forced to buy new devices, or forced to re-buy your content.  Need proof? Read about one of the first DRM train-wrecks I started to keep track of.

Topic: Apple

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23 comments
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  • pointless anyway

    if you can hear it, you can record it.
    if you can see it, you can record it.

    doesnt take a whole lot of technology to get around that either. unless they figure out a way to play back either with, or without actually hearing or seeing it
    richvball44
  • Bruce is wrong, you know

    [i]No user is ever going to say: "Oh no. I can now play the music I bought for my computer in my car. I must install a patch so I can't do that anymore."[/i]

    But that's not true. We have at least one prolific poster here who waxes eloquent on how important that very thing is to him.

    Judge as you may, but "never say never" seems to apply.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • RE: Bruce is wrong, you know

      Yagotta B. Kidding, right? :-)
      Protagonistic
  • Nothing to do with getting Zuned

    This has nothing at all to do with Zune. Zune exists for one single reason: Microsoft failed to leverage the Monopoly to take out Apple. It didn't work [1]. Since that didn't do the trick, the next bet will be more obvious imitation.

    My bet is on MS using their huge cash reserve to initiate a price war that will crush Apple in a head-to-head. Sort of the SDI of consumer electronics: spend them into oblivion. Predatory pricing seems to be a dead-letter issue in US law so it might well work.

    [1] Any poster who predicted that PfS was the only safe way to go is welcome to some Crow recipes that I have from a Northern Plains tribe.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • There are legitimate MP3 vendors

    Folks that sell good-ole, legal, down-to-earth, wholesome, play-where-you-like MP3 files continue to get ignored in the media. Okay, maybe I can't download the latest Britney Spears album on emusic.com, but you shouldn't say that iTMS is the only answer to downloading music.
    jadon
  • iTunes DRM

    uhm.... If music purchased form the iTunes Music Stores forever locks me into only buying iPods to play my music, then how is it I can play all the music I have purchased there in my cars Sony MP3 stereo, my house stereo, or any other device that will play audio CD's or MP3 CD's?

    I believe your blod here is spreading fud which simply is not true. iTunes lets you burn the music which you purchased through apple to a standard audio CD, MP3 CD, or a Data CD, and its all 100% legal (so long as you are doing it for your personal use only, just like any other music you buy).

    So, as much as you may say FairPlay is evil, and it locks you into always buying iPods or whatever, you are quite simply... wrong.
    Stuka
    • It locks you in if you want quality

      If you're willing to accept a low bandwidth copy of a low bandwidth file to begin with, sure, you can get around FairPlay. But if you expect to get what you paid for, you're going to have to listen to it through iTunes/iPod.
      tic swayback
      • RE: It locks you in if you want quality

        Uh, I have yet to see a MP3 file whether DRM'd or not that was
        not low quality, so what's the difference here. Any MP3 file
        played on a good quality sound system sounds like CRAP, pun
        intended. The difference in sound quality is striking.

        So I say boycott all the major distributors and buy only from
        sources that offer the uncompressed CD quality DL. If enough
        people vote with their wallets these companies will eventually
        get the message.
        Protagonistic
        • Quality

          It's not an mp3 file, it's an AAC file, which sounds at least a little better than mp3. Purchased songs are ripped at 128 kb/s which is pretty low, about the lowest acceptable rate before things really start to sound crappy. So reripping down from that means you're left with less than you started with.

          But I agree with you. Higher quality files would be preferable to begin with.
          tic swayback
  • Removing Itunes DRM

    See http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9592_22-6111530.html.
    It seems that itunes just as exposed as PlaysForSure
    jimbo_z
  • Fastest patch ever

    When has MS ever issued a patch in a mere 3 days? Kind of shows you where their priorities are, and sorry, it isn't you Windows/Office users.

    The thing you neglect to mention is how hacks like this harm MS much more than they harm Apple. MS is banking on the subscription model for selling their devices/songs. A hack like this opens up their entire catalog to free copying, not just the songs one has already purchased. That's why MS' DRM is so much more critical, and in so much more trouble when it inevitably fails.
    tic swayback
  • Did it DOOM ITunes?

    Ummm, no.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Different model

      iTunes, you pay once per song.

      With subscriptions, do $15 (or whatever) for a month, saturate your connection then cancel. There's a higher probability of a higher loss.
      rpmyers1
      • Huge problem for MS

        With the iTunes DRM breaks, you could only free the songs that you'd already bought. No loss to Apple as you'd already paid them. For MS, you pay $15 and you get every single song in their catalog. That's why it's a deal-breaker for them, but not for Apple.
        tic swayback
  • Itunes DRM still hacked?

    DVD Jon and friends created pymistique, Apple patched it quickly, and 12 hours later pymistique worked around it. I believe it is still bypassed? Either way, you have to admire MS for inflicing 'Plays for Sure, sometimes' on the industry, and then create Zune which will be incompatible with 'Plays some of the time'.

    This problem, however, is much more urgent for MS instead of Apple. No one in this world believes that Apples DRM is effective, not even Apple, and it wasn't meant to be. Apple themselves have provided instructions on how to convert content to MP3/CD to play anywhere. It is simply the extra steps involved that they like because people are lazy.

    For MS, it is critical create bulletproof DRM (no it isn't possible, but they need it), be it Video, Music, Office software, etc, because they need to get people hooked into only using their OS (i.e. not Linux). The DRM infection is the very last chance to exclude Linux from mainstream adoption. The OEM monopoly won't last forever. The subscription model with effective DRM excludes Linux. I could use iTunes on Linux today.

    Side note: DRM infected or not, have you listened to a WMP DRM protected song side by side with the CD? Who wants the poor quality for a $1 anyway?

    To sum up, I enjoy all this DRM news immensely. Since neither FairPlay or PyMistique are about ripping off tunes (you still have to pay for them), large music pirates don't want these inferior quality songs anyway, I love to imagine the RIAA, MS, Apple, Sony, ... just dig themselves deeper and deeper, wasting more and more money in a futule effort to hold the ocean back with a broom.

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
  • Zune doomed by people created iPod monopoly

    not that competition doesn't exist, it just can't touch iPod nor influence it's 3rd party accessory market. Zune, unless sporting some anti typical MS tech, like a lack of DRM, mobile DJ on the fly on the go anywhere anytime, a better design than what's be reported, and a media blitz to rival the iPod but not lookalike, Zune will be stillborn. iPod is fast becoming what Sony's walkman was back in the day, . . . the name and item people associate with that market, IMO.
    Boot_Agnostic
    • To beat it, you have to be better

      The only way to displace the iPod is to come up with something much better, or at least much cheaper. Just throwing in a bunch of features that people don't want (and hoping by their very existence that a demand for them will be created) isn't going to tip the scales.

      Wanna beat the iPod? Do something new, something better. Wannabes are a dime a dozen.
      tic swayback
  • You DO NOT license CDs- RIAA Brainwash Campaign Strikes Again

    When you buy a CD and put it into a regular CD player does a box pop up with 34 pages of legalese in which you must agree to in order to play it? Did you agree to any other terms besides paying the purchase price at the store?

    Of course you didn't. You purchase your CDs. The RIAA wants to brainwash you into thinking you don't though.

    Also the AHRA explicitly allows you to make recordings from the [b]DIGITAL[/b] recordings you purchase.

    [i]?Phonorecords? are material objects in which sounds, other than those accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, are fixed by any method now known or later developed, and from which the sounds can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. The term ?phonorecords? includes the material object in which the sounds are first fixed.[/i]

    [i]1) A "digital audio copied recording" is a reproduction in a digital recording format of a digital musical recording, whether that reproduction is made directly from another digital musical recording or indirectly from a transmission.[/i]

    And where they allow recordings:

    [i]? 1008. Prohibition on certain infringement actions

    No action may be brought under this title alleging infringement of copyright based on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of a digital audio recording device, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium, or based on the noncommercial use by a consumer of such a device or medium for making digital musical recordings or analog musical recordings.
    [/i]

    Not only that but you as the consumer paid a royalty of ;

    [i](b) Digital Audio Recording Media. - The royalty payment due under section 1003 for each digital audio recording medium imported into and distributed in the United States, or manufactured and distributed in the United States, shall be 3 percent of the transfer price. Only the first person to manufacture and distribute or import and distribute such medium shall be required to pay the royalty with respect to such medium.[/i]

    For the CD and paid;

    [i](a) Digital Audio Recording Devices. -

    (1) Amount of payment. - The royalty payment due under section 1003 for each digital audio recording device imported into and distributed in the United States, or manufactured and distributed in the United States, shall be 2 percent of the transfer price. Only the first person to manufacture and distribute or import and distribute such device shall be required to pay the royalty with respect to such device.[/i]

    For each digital recorder.

    Finally the only place I have seen the language you are using is in the RIAA "Education" materials.
    Edward Meyers
    • There's a reason for that

      You don't need a license to listen to music or watch a movie on a CD or DVD. You do need a license to download as you are copying music and the license gives the authorization to copy under the terms of said license. It's the same with software. That's why you have no licenses on a console game but the exact same game for the PC does. On the PC you have to copy the files to the PC on the console you don't.

      Licenses govern copying. Also most licenses try to pull a few things that just won't stand up in court of law but until someone challenges those provision they really are moot.
      voska
  • AHRA not Fair Use

    You are correct in saying that making recordings is not Fair Use. It falls under the AHRA and is decriminalized and the manufacture and use of Digital audio recorders is protected as long as they pay the royalty and follow a few other provisions of the AHRA.

    The consumer pays a royalty on both the digital audio recording device and the digital recorder.

    Also you do not license the CD as you do not affirmatively agree to a contract when you play the CD. In order for a clickwrap/shrinkwrap contract to be valid you must affirmatively agree to the terms by either signing the contract either by clicking "I Agree" or by some other affirmative means.
    Edward Meyers