Sony gets spanked!

AP writer Liz Austin reports on Thursday that Sony is being sued by the Texas Attorney General and a California-based digital rights group over their latest botch of an attempt at DRM (Digital Rights Management). I’m laughing by butt off on this one, but it is not because I’m some music stealing kid going, “Score another win for the pirates DUDE!” There is a much more important consequence to this battle…. if I have your curiosity peaked… read on.

You can read all about the threatened lawsuit at:
Texas Sues Sony BMG Over Anti-Piracy Software
(link removed – article no longer available)

To summarize, it is just one more desperate attempt by the media companies to control how the product is used. Sony put an auto-install program on the CD which was to limit the number of times the CD could be copied. But, it backfired for a couple of reasons. First, the system was flawed such that it allowed hackers to then hack the system it was installed on… DOH! Then, to make things even more exciting, the ‘fix’ they distributed did the same… DOH! DOH!. The groups suing Sony are using anti-‘spy ware’ laws to go after them. I think it is a great and legitimate use of such a law. Go Texas!!!

So why am I laughing? I guess it is out of sheer joy at the negative publicity Sony is getting over this one. It is one thing to have to ‘make a deal with the devil’, so to speak, as Apple had to do to pioneer on-line music sales. But, it is quite another to cross that line into destroying someone’s property (even if they have done nothing illegal) in an attempt to protect your own.

While I respect the position of the DRM folks that something must be done to combat the rampant theft that is taking place, this is certainly not the way to do it. Unfortunately, the industry seems to be taking the approach of hurting their entire client base, rather than going after those who are guilty of the crime. If they keep this up, they might just lose their customers. Hopefully this one will wake the industry up a bit.

Why am I so passionate about this one? Well, for one, I LOVE music. I played in band through my school years. I started buying CDs over 20 years ago now. I haven’t really counted, but I would guess I have 500 to 600 CDs. So, at an average of $12 a pop, that’s like $6000 to $7000 (yes, there was a day kiddies when you could buy CDs for $10 to $12). You might think Sony would be interested in keeping me as a customer (not including having 2 Sony car stereos, a Sony TV, etc. over the years). I play guitar and keyboard, and have played in bands (I only wish well enough to go pro).

However, my music buying has slowed down. I’m just too busy these days to hang out at the record stores. However, Apple changed all that. I LOVE the iTunes Music Store. Yet, I have purchased under 50 songs from there so far, and there is a reason why. It’s the DRM. To put it simply…

I want to be able to use the music I buy, when and where I want!

I don’t have a pirated music track that I know of at all… zip, zero! I have no problem buying my music as all as the above might indicate. (And, yes, I spent a large percentage of my very hard earned couple dollars an hour when I was a kid buying my music… so please, no I’m a poor kid excuses). But I just have not become comfortable at this point investing money in music which I might not be able to play in a few years if technology takes a turn… or that I can’t play where and how I want.

I recently installed new Kenwood car stereo in my Miata. It has the ability to play MP3 and AAC music tracks. However, it can’t play the AAC files from iTunes Music Store, because they are protected by Apple’s DRM. This basically sucks! Sure, I can use an iPod (I have one which I’ll be selling soon), but at every turn down the road, I’ll have to watch what I do. To play them to our home stereo, I can’t buy just any receiver that can accept AAC files… I have to use an Airport Express with AirTunes. So, Apple has been doing well to be sure I can do ‘most’ of the things I want, IF I spend some serious cash buying more products from them… how convenient.

There is a ‘work-around’ sort of. You can try and strip the DRM using a tool such as JHymn. It has worked well so far in its ability to strip the DRM off my protected-AAC files, so they become just normal AAC files. I can then use them in any device that plays AAC.
(link removed – luckily we don’t need this any longer, as Apple’s efforts seem to have fixed the music industry… now for the movie industry!)

This is a really wonderful effort to help us folks that just want to use the music we have bought. But, Apple keeps breaking this thing with new iTunes releases (6.0 broke it again, with no fix yet). I’m not sure if Apple is doing that purposely or not (or maybe under pressure from the music industry to keep their licensing ability), but either way, I don’t like it. At this point, I can’t upgrade iTunes now, and I’m thinking about not buying more music from them.

One can also burn the files to a CD, then import them back to iTunes as MP3 files. However, the AAC files have already lost quality. By converting to MP3, I lose even more off a format that is ‘just’ barely good enough in the first place. I’m just not willing to go that route.

My solution… find a legal way to really solve the problem. Auto manufacturers don’t make the car’s axle break when it goes over 55 MPH… maybe someone uses that car to legally race at SCCA events on the weekend, or they live where the speed limit is 70 MPH. Instead, a police force catches speeders from time to time and keeps the general society in check on the speed limits. Why not do the same in this case. Get the legal ability to track those distributing files illegally, and then crack down. Maybe if they could get good at tracking, they could get warrants, come to the place where the kid is sharing out a ton of tunes, and confiscate the computer equipment… donate it to an organization that gives computers to underprivileged kids. That might be the best fix… hurt those who are the actual thieves in a way that hurts most.

Bottom line, leave the rest of us who buy our music to enjoy it the way we want.