Steve Jobs Calls for the End of DRM for Online Music Sales

Steve Jobs has posted an open letter entitled "Thoughts on Music" on the Apple website and, in doing so, joins Yahoo! Music in calling upon the major record labels to abandon DRM for online music sales. He rightly points out that while 90% of music sales are on CD's without DRM, the growth of online music sales is inhibited by the saddling of electronically distributes music with consumer unfriendly DRM. In his open letter Steve discusses the status quo, the problems associated with licensing its "FairPlay" DRM system and, ultimately, concludes that DRM-free music sales is the best way forward.

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.

Continue reading “Steve Jobs Calls for the End of DRM for Online Music Sales”

Wired Article: Signs Music Industry May be Abandoning DRM

This Wired article, discusses the following list of reasons why the major music labels may abandon DRM in favour or water-marked MP3 Distribution:

  1. The label's don't have a choice;
  2. Apple might be forced into interoperability;
  3. Thomson has endorsed selling watermarked MP3s;
  4. Amazon is rumored to start selling MP3s by April;
  5. Sony: "DRMs are going to become less important";
  6. People love; and
  7. MP3 has future options.

Dale's Comment: There have been countless articles on this topic over the last few weeks. This Wired article is as good as any other. It presents a nice summary of the reasons why the major labels may abandon  DRM in favor of MP3 music distribution. This article falls into the category of "I'll believe it when I see it", but I do see it as an inevitability. I just don't see it happening as quickly as the recent optimistic bloggers do. But I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

Source: Wired News

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BitTorrent to Purchase µTorrent

With some of the $25m recently raised from investors, BitTorrent, Inc. is set to purchase µTorrent. µTorrent has become an enormously popular, best of breed, BitTorrent client given its very small footprint, efficiency and minimal use of system resources.  µTorrent and Azureus have long eclipsed the original BitTorrent client invented by Bram Cohen. Details of the acquisition have not yet been made public. In an open post to users in the µTorrent Forum, Bram Cohen said:

BitTorrent has acquired µTorrent as it recognized the merits of µTorrent’s exceptionally well-written codebase and robust user community. Bringing together µTorrent’s efficient implementation and compelling UI with BitTorrent’s expertise in networking protocols will significantly benefit the community with what we envision will be the best BitTorrent client.

BitTorrent clients such as these have been enormously controversial as, in conjunction with tracker websites, they have become the primary means by which movies, TV shows and other video content is shared over the Internet since the RIAA and the MPAA successfully shut down most of the major P2P Networks through litigation. 

Production studios have discovered that the technology underlying BitTorrent clients is an enormously efficient method of distributing large files over the Internet and, as you can see from the related posts below, Hollywood has started to embrace this technology as a means of legally distributing movies and TV shows over the Internet.

Sources: Techcrunch | DailyTech | ComputerWorld (IDG) | InfoWorld | MacWorld | Playfuls | P2PNet| Wired Blogs | Announcement/Discussion on µTorrent Forum

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EMI’s Blue Note & Yahoo! Music Sell a Few More Songs DRM Free

Amidst the music industry's growing angst over Apple's lock on the downloadable music market, EMI's Blue Note division is experimenting with DRM-free music downloads of Norah Jones new single "Thinking About You" for 99¢ U.S. Yahoo! is also making two DRM-free songs by Christian performer Reliant K. available. The prior Jessica Simpson song sold in MP3 or WMA format back in July, without DRM, for 1.99¢ U.S. No sales figures were announced.

Red Herring's quote bu Joe Fliesche, CMO of media research ferm Big Champagne is apt: 

“Content owners believe that digital rights management will protect them from being widely copied. At this point any company that embraces DRM is doing it emotionally or politically, there is absolutely no data to support that it has ever made a difference. It’s not a business issue.”

Sources: ars technica ComputerWorld | Wall St. Journal | Beta News | InfoWorld | PC World | L.A. Times | TG Daily | Warez | | Crunch Gear | Red Herring | Fox News | San Jose Mercury News (AP) | PC World (IDG) | EFF Deep Links

Dale's Comment: The song is also available, encumbered by AAC-DRM as usual for 99¢ from iTunes. Which would you prefer to buy? It would be really interesting to get a summary of DRM-encumbered sales from iTunes vs. DRM-free sales if the same song through Yahoo!

The very fact that these DRM-free sales experiments are continuing is a positive sign of things to come.

DRM-Free Song SNAFUs Continue: When I tried to purchase the DRM-Free Jessica Simpson song last July, Yahoo! would not sell it to me because I lived in Canada. This time, when I tried to buy the Norah Jones song (available here), it wouldn't allow me to just purchase and download the song in MP3 format as allows. It forces You to first install the Yahoo! Music Jukebox. Something that is anathema to DRM-free music if you ask me. But, I soldiered on intending to de-install the jukebox software after purchasing the song.

it was not to be. When I tried to install the player, Windows XP SP2's "Data Execution Prevention" software wouldn't let me – I tried to except-out the Jukebox from the DEP protection but it refused to budge. I even tried rebooting my system twice after excepting the jukebox software from DEP protection – no go. I enjoy Norah Jones music and would love to buy the song without DRM but the DRM Gods are conspiring against me! Argh!!!

I ask anyone reading this, if you enjoy Norah Jones or Reliant K's music, if you don't mind using the Yahoo! jukebox software and you can successfully install it, to please purchase a copy of this DRM song so we can get the industry ball finally rolling in a consumer friendly direction! 

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Morgan Freeman and Intel Team Up for New Internet-based Movie Download Service – Clickstar

Morgan Freeman's production company is in a new venture with Intel called ClickStar to launch independent films on the Internet within weeks of their theatrical debut. The first such movie to be distributed through ClickStar is Freeman's newest film, 10 Items or Less. It will be available online on December 15 – two weeks after its cinematic debut. Clickstar's next first-run digital release will be the upcoming John Travolta/James Gandolfini film, Lonely Hearts, next spring. The service will also make older feature films available for download.

Freeman and company would have launched 10 Items or Less on the Internet on the same day and date as in the cinema but this would have disqualified them for Oscar consideration. Apparently a two week delay gets them over this Oscar hurdle. Prices will range from US$1.99 for renting an older movie to around US$24.99 for buying a DVD-quality download of a first-run film.

Dale's Comment: As a movie fan, I look forward to this new form of movie distribution becoming ubiquitous.  Distribution through the net, on the same day, or close to the same day, as cinematic releases, and easily viewable on the consumer's living-room TV —  this is a winning formula!

Despite protests from the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) and the ever-present "we've always done it another way" Big Media opposition, this form of distribution is, in my opinion, a fait-accompli. It's just a matter of time. 

How it Works: This USA Today article has the best description I've found online of how the system will work. Given that this is a partnership with Intel, my fear was that this would be some kind of proprietary set-top device like Disney's ill-fated MovieBeam.  Happily, it will be a Media Center PC-based service.  Anyone with a Media Center PC should be able to download the service's content.  Media Center will be built into the higher-end versions of Microsoft's Vista operating system due out next January. All such Media Center content can be viewed in the living room on the consumer's TV through an Xbox or Xbox 360 connected to the PC via an inhome network.

Hopefully this service will not remain proprietary to the Microsoft Media Center platform.  Ideally ClickStar will also partner with TiVo, Apple and Sony for distribution through TiVos, Apple's forthcoming iTV device and/or the PS3 as well. And hopefully this will not be yet another U.S.-only service so that those of us in the movie-loving diaspora can be part of the fun too!

UPDATE: Since I've been asked this question more than once I'd like to clarify. You won't need to own a Media Center PC to use this service after January 2007. The higher-end versions of Vista (specifically the Home Premium and the Ultimate editions) will have the Media Center functionality built in. So, any PC that can run the higher-end Vista Operating Systems should be able to drive this system – assuming you upgrade your PC to one of the higher-end Vista O/S versions.

Sources: abc NEWS | USA Today | ZDNet | The Age | EurWeb | Columbus Dispatch (AP) | The Independent | Washington Post | The Mercury News | Clickstar Website

Morgan Freeman on Charlie Rose speaks about ClickStar – see time index 4:50-9.50

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BitTorrent Signs More Download Deals with Major Hollywood Movie & TV Studios

On the heals of raising $25 million in capital, BitTorrent has reportedly signed video downloading deals with 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Lionsgate, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, Palm Pictures, G4, Kadokawa and Stars Media. Last year BitTorrent had done a similar deal with Warner. The service will use BitTorrent's proven peer-to-peer technology. The technology makes the distribution of large video files faster and less expensive by offloading much of the bandwidth requirements to its users. Pricing details have not yet been announced.

Starting next February you'll* be able to download-to-own (DTO) films and TV shows, or rent films on a video on-demand (VOD) basis. Most of the entertainment content in question will be made available on the day it is released on DVD or shown on television. These videos will be playable on PCs, laptops or other portable devices.

The service's DRM will limit playback to the device you originally record the content on. So recorded DVDs will not play on consumer DVD players. Some titles will only be viewable a limited number of times before the central DRM store disables your key. For this, you'll likely be paying full DVD retail prices.

So far as I know, BitTorrent has no such deal with consumer electronics companies like TiVo, Microsoft, Sony or Apple for downloads to a TV-connected device. 

Dale's Comment:  While any news story like this is heartening, insomuch as Hollywood is slowly advancing into the future, I agree with ars technica that DVD-purchasing consumers will not be impressed with this service. As with iTunes, it limits the user's right to use the content to the device it was downloaded on – hardly useful for long term video purchasers.  But, for one-time viewing, the method by which the vast majority of video consumers consume such content, this will probably have limited success for those wanting to view such content on laptops, PCs and portable devices.  But, as I have contended for years, downloadable media sales will only really take off once consumers can purchase/rent the content for viewing on their TVs – just as Microsoft is now doing with its Xbox 360 Marketplace movie/TV show service and as Apple has announced it will do with its forthcoming iTV product.

*Caveat:  While I have not yet had my suspicions confirmed, my guess is that this service will ONLY be available to U.S. consumers at launch.  This seems to be the way of the world these days! 🙁

Sources:  Information Week | Gizmodo | ars technica | Hollywood Reporter | Wired Blogs | USA Today | Forbes (AP) | TechWeb  Playfuls | LA Times | BitTorrent Pres Release

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Techcrunch » BitTorrent Raises $25 million, Bram Cohen is History

Source: Techcrunch 



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ifpi Board Member Quoted as Saying Major Labels About to Abandon DRM

I just came across this New Music Strategies blog post quoting Paul Birch, Managing Director of indie-label, Revolver Records, and independent member of the ifpi's board of directors, as saying the following in an e-mail:

DRM as we know it is over. There may be Son of DRM but that’s another matter. Right now its dead, the majors are moving towards the new model. The one thing you can be sure of is they will still be at the centre of the world music industry whatever happens. The independents are another matter. As our sector’s share has fallen by almost half in just over twelve months, the new model for us is partnership. It always was, I’m just not sure we got it.

The ifpi is Europe's version of the RIAA. This from the man who, on the ifpi's website, is quoted as saying:

"I hate what's happening with illegal downloading. People who love music shouldn't do this. The music industry provides huge choice. By stealing music you deny other people that choice in the future. Some may say it does not affect new and eclectic music. The fact is that it is precisely this kind of music which gets displaced. For small businesses it's particularly tough. Most of us came into this business not to get rich but because we love music. No one who loves music would steal it."

Later in the comments portion of the blog post Mr. Birch confirmed he made this statement but qualifies it as a prediction based on rumblings at board meetings – rather than known fact.

Dale's Comment: If Mr. Birch is quoted accurately and his predictions are true, much of my work here would be done. Ha! I'll believe it when I see it! 🙂

Sources New Music Strategies

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First a Song, Now a DRM-Free Album – Yahoo!

Yahoo! is the proper exclamation for this event. On July 20, 2006, Yahoo! and Epic released the first single by a major U.S. label without DRM, Jessica Simpson's "A Public Affair" for $2.00 U.S. Now, Yahoo! and Hollywood Records are set to distribute an entire album, Jesse McCartney's "Right Where You Want Me" without DRM in MP3 or WMA format for $9.99 U.S.

Dale's Comment: These may seem to be baby steps. But for an industry content with suing tens of thousands of its customers rather than providing them with a fair and convenient way to purchase music online, this could be the beginning of something bigger.

Sources: ars technica | PC Pro | | After Dawn | Business Wire | Beta News

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John Edwards Uses BitTorrent

John Edward’s use of BitTorrent to distribute his speeches and campaign materials hopefully demonstrates his awareness and understanding of the usefulness/importance of emerging distribution technologies.

Sources:  |
Dale’s Comment: As was the case with Al Gore before him, we could use more people in office who understand how the Internet works. Then again, all this may prove is that John Edward’s handlers understand how the Internet works. In any event, his use of BitTorrent gives me greater comfort than Senator Ted Steven’s ‘series of tubes’ understanding of how the Internet works. On a related note, I have been listening to Senator Barack Obama’s podcasts since I first started listening to podcasts last October. He too clearly understands the importance of emerging technologies.

Yahoo! Offers DRM-Free Jessica Simpson Song

For the first time Yahoo! is offering a popular song, Jessica Simpson's "A Public Affair", for sale for $2.00 – unprotected by DRM. While it's a one-time deal with record label Epic, Yahoo! wants to eventually make all music available DRM-free. Ian Rogers, of Yahoo! Music wrote the following in a blog yesterday:

"As you know, we've been publicly trying to convince record labels that they should be selling MP3s for a while now. Our position is simple: DRM doesn't add any value for the artist, label (who are selling DRM-free music every day — the compact disc) or consumer, the only people it adds value to are the technology companies who are interested in locking consumers to a particular technology platform."

Sources: Wired | CNet | ZDNet | CD Freaks | iLounge | EFF Deep Links

Dale's Comment: Let's hope this is the first step toward Yahoo's convincing the music industry to eventually sell all digital music without anti-copy restrictions. Out of principle alone, I will purchase this song (site unheard) from Yahoo! if they make it available for sale in Canada.

Update: So much for my first attempt to legally purchase a DRM-free song on the Internet. After taking my credit card number and particulars and after having selected the personalized version of the song I wanted, I was presented with this perfunctory message "There was a problem processing your purchase. Your credit card has not been charged – error code: 8". Well, error code: 8 prevented a most enthusiastic customer from attempting to purchase the song. If you wish to give it a whirl, here's the site where the song is supposed to be available.

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BPI Finally Recommends Legalizing the Copying of Purchased Music for Personal Use

The BPI, the body that represents British record companies, believes copyright on CDs and records should be changed to allow consumers to copy music if it is for personal use. Currently, it is technically illegal for anyone to copy a CD onto their computer for the purposes of downloading music onto their own portable music player.

Sources: Telegraph Co. UK  |  ars technica  |  The Register  |  P2PNet  |  Macworld  |  PC Advisor
Dale’s Comment: While this is a long-over-due recommendation, it amounts to nothing more than a token tilt towards consumer fair use/fair dealing rights. As music distribution models switch from CDs to electronic distribution of music protected by DRM and TPMs, the consumer will shortly be right back in the same place – having no legal way to copy their purchased music into alternative formats. U.K. laws implementing the WIPO Copyright Treaty will make it illegal to defeat the DRM/TPMs (that all future music will be wrapped in) thus effectively taking-away with one law what U.K. consumers might finally achieve of any such change to the U.K. Copyright Act is made.

Warner Bros. and BitTorrent Partner to Download Movies

Warner Bros. and BitTorrent announced a partnership that will make Warner movies and television shows available for rental or purchase using peer-to-peer technology. The move makes Warner the first major studio to embrace BitTorrent technology, which has long been associated with the illicit swapping of video content. More than 200 WB movies and TV shows will be available this summer. New content will be available the same day DVDs are made available in stores.

Sources: ars technica | New York Times | L.A. Times | Forbes | Times Online | Wired | Fox News (Reuters) | Red Herring | CBC Canada | MSNBC/Business Week | Houstin Chronicle (AP) | International Herold Tribute | Playfuls | Inquirer | CNN Money | Engadget | BBC | CNet | ZDNet | Hollywood Reporter | Wall St. Journal

Note 1: BitTorrent and the MPAA had previously reached an agreement on November 23, 2005 whereby BitTorrent agreed to remove torrents for unlicensed movies from it's site. On that day BitTorrent (the company) became legitimate in the eyes of Hollywood.

Note 2: Of note, this distribution will use still another proprietary DRM system. See related article.

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Fox and It’s Affiliates Agree to Share Revenue from TV Reruns on the Internet

Fox network has signed a six-year agreement with its 187 affiliated stations that will let it show reruns of its television programs on the Internet. The affiliates will be paid 12.5% after costs and Fox will be able to make 60 percent of its prime-time schedule available online the morning after the shows air.

Sources: Reuters  |  TechCrunch  |  L.A. Times  |  Business Week  |  Red Herring  |  Related ars technica April 25, 2006 article.
Dale’s Comment: While networks making limited amounts of content available over the Internet is all the rage these days, what is particularly interesting about this development is that this is the first long term, comprehensive revenue share deal by a major network with its affiliates on how they will share revenues derived from Internet sales of a substantial portion of network content. The exclusive rights granted to network affiliates and to syndicated content purchasers have long been a sticking point for networks that were otherwise interested in making their back catalogue of content available to consumers over the Internet. This could be an important precedent for the eventual availability of all network content over the Internet.

TiVo, flush with your victory over Echostar, PLEASE negotiate a deal with Fox, and the other networks, so we can purchase reruns via iVOD through our TiVos! 🙂 I for one, would love to order up the first two Seasons of The West Wing that I missed years ago.

Hollywood to Sell (not just rent) Downloaded Movies on Same Day as DVD Release

Six major studios are starting U.S.-based Internet services to sell movies that buyers can download and keep for watching at any time. New movies will cost about $20 to $30 to download; older titles will cost as little as $10. The downloads will be available on the same day that the DVD is released – quicker than rentals, which are put online about 45 days later and cost $2 to $5. Customers will be able to store movies for as long as they like on computers, as well as transfer them to two other computers and burn them on DVD, but only for copying to the two other PCs. Note: Regrettably, burned DVDs will not be playable on conventional DVD players. These DVD’s will be protected with Microsoft’s Windows Digital Rights Management software.

Sources: Herold Tribune | New York Times | L.A. Times | CNet | BBC | MSNBC | Times Online | Fox News | | Washington Post | Business Week | USA Today | MovieWeb | Red Herring | MSN Money | ABC News | Forbes | CNN Money | Reuters | Engadget | China Daily | San Jose Mercury News | | |

Dale’s Comment: This is a solid step in the right direction but the Holy Grail of online movie purchase/rentals remains movie downloads to TV-centric devices such as a TiVo, XBox 360 or PS3 where the user calls all up movies via an interface on their TV (or their PC) for download and ultimate interactive viewing through home networks on their TVs. Given that Windows Media Center functionality is to be built into Vista, and the XBox 360 will be able to access content from Vista-powered PCs, I expect a movie download service announcement from Microsoft around the time Vista is released (in early 07). Selling (rather than renting) first run titles on DVD release dates, is a major shift for Hollywood and they must be given credit for finally making this decision. But, in my opinion, they are making a blunder by not permitting users to burn copies of PURCHASED movies to DVDs for playback by the owner on conventional DVD players.

Microsoft and Cablelabs Agree on Cablecard Integration into Windows Media Centre

Microsoft and CableLabs have announced an agreement to bring CableCard access to the PC, along with the ability to share it with connected devices (like the Xbox 360).

Dale's Comment: This will, of course, only work in jurisdictions where cable providers use cable-card technology in their headends. While required of all major cable companies in the U.S., Canada does not yet (nor will it ever likely) mandate such cable-card compatibility.

Sources: Yahoo! News | HD Beat | PC World | Multichannel News | CED Magazine | Cable Digital News

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