Mark Pilgrim, in The Day the Music Died, points out what happens when DRM meets market failure.

On August 31, Microsoft will turn off the servers that validate their “PlaysForSure” DRM system (this predates the system they use for the Zune). This means that anyone who has bought music that uses PlaysForSure will not be able to transfer it when they upgrade or replace their computer, or get a new music player.

It won’t be an instantaneous death like DIVX was, or like a subscription system, because it doesn’t phone home whenever you try to play a track. But it’ll be a lot faster than simple technological obsolescence. I can still play my old VHS tapes until my VCR breaks down (and then I could probably still get it fixed if I really wanted to), even though I don’t think I’ve seen a pre-recorded tape in a store in years.

This is also why I prefer to check Amazon’s MP3 store first, before going onto the iTunes Music Store, and then prefer DRM-free iTunes Plus to standard iTunes tracks. Given their current position, Apple isn’t likely to get rid of iTunes anytime soon, but if they ever did, I’d be in the same boat as people who purchased PlaysForSure tracks. (Though I’m hoping they’ll move the entire catalog away from DRM long before that happens.) Whereas since Amazon’s tracks are plain, ordinary MP3s, they could abandon the business tomorrow and I’d still be able to play the tracks for as long as I can find software that plays MP3s.


AKA stuff I wanted to write about earlier this week but need to just slam out while they’re still topical.

  • Judge slams SCO’s lack of evidence against IBM. Also Groklaw’s take. After all the wild claims they’ve made without providing evidence, it’s nice to see even the judge is getting sick of it.
  • Coke may try out coffee cola – Yeah, it’s a month old, but it’s news to me. (Incidentally, I hate CNN’s practice of deleting stories from their website. That’s where I read about this earlier this week, and I had to go hunting for an article that was still up.) [Note: I’ve had to track down a third copy of the article.]
  • shuns DRM – former founder starts a new legal download service, and sticks with unencumbered MP3s instead of messing around with ultimately-flawed digital rights management. I’m reminded of Cory Doctorow’s famous talk on why DRM is bad for everyone.
  • Beware the unexpected attack vector – Your enemy may not come at you from the direction you expect. Set up sentries around the beach, they’ll get you through the ocean. Set up a firewall, they’ll get you through web browsers. It’s mainly about computer/network security, but it has an interesting story explaining why there’s only one major newspaper in Los Angeles.
  • CSS Zen Garden parody: Geocities 1996 – I’ve been meaning to post a link to this for over a month. It’s fully valid code, and manages to bring back the worst of 1990s web design.

You know, when Napster announced its subscription music plan, I never gave it a second look. Not because I assumed it wouldn’t work with my Linux box or Katie’s Mac, but for one simple reason:

No matter how many songs you “buy” on the plan, once your subscription lapses, they’re all gone.

Want to stop paying $15/mo? Say goodbye to your music.

Napster goes out of business? Say goodbye to your music.

On the other hand, suppose I’ve bought a bunch of songs from iTunes at 99¢ each, and I decide I don’t want to buy any more from them? No problem. If the marketplace changes two years from now and Apple decides to abandon the iTunes music store, I can still listen to songs I bought from them.

Amazingly, some people still need this explained to them. John Gruber of Daring Fireball writes, “I thought this was obvious, but, judging by my email, there seems to be a fair amount of confusion…” Forget the math, do the logic first!

There is one flaw in Gruber’s logic regarding CDs vs. subscription music: while I expect CDs will be playable over the next decade or two, eventually they will go the way of vinyl records. However, if I were to bet, I’d expect my CD collection will be playable long after Napster To Go has, shall we say, gone.

So Apple is ticked off at Real’s reverse-engineering to let people buy music from Real and play it on an iPod. Apple has threatened DMCA sanctions and all but promised to deliberately break it in the next software update.

Excuse me? In general I like Apple, but their insistence on locking the iPod to iTunes and iTunes alone is short-sighted. When people hacked up a way to use an iPod on Windows, they first licensed the software, then wrote iTunes for Windows. iPod sales have tripled to the point where they may soon outsell Macintoshes. This could never have happened if Apple had kept the iPod Mac-specific.

I’m reminded of the many times Microsoft has altered its file-sharing protocol to break compatibility with Samba, the package that allows Linux, BSD, and now Mac OS X to connect to Windows networks.

The classic analogy is getting a car that can only run on certain roads. So someone’s found a way to let the iPod drive some different roads. But Apple still sells as many iPods. They might even sell more (as when it gained Windows compatibility). Why the accusations of hacking, why the legal threats, and why the determination to keep the iPod locked to their own roads?