Seeing Mark Cuban's post on the topic last week got me to think about Digital Rights Management (DRM). In his post he advocates the position that people should break the DRM protection on every piece of media they (legally) own. And, his rationale is that the pace of DRM evolution will soon render that owned property as obsolete. From his post:

As DRM evolves, the playback software and devices will change to enable encoding and playback of content using the latest and greatest versions of DRM.

So whats the problem ?

Many of us are not going to take the time to re encode the content we already own to make sure it continues to be compatible with the new playback devices we are buying. Most of us wont even know that we need to as we go through different media playback environments over the next years.

All we are going to know , is that we have files on our hard drives that we cant play back.

My advice? Any and all digital content that you purchase and OWN, with any sort of copy protection, crack it, and make a backup copy for your own personal storage.

And, I think Mark is correct. A quick scan of his comments, however, shows that people assume he is advocating piracy…or, at a minimum the slippery slope that leads to piracy. I don't think he is. Instead, he is an advocate for Property Rights. And, Mark is trying to make people aware that property rights are being lost in all the hullabaloo about copy protection and piracy and DRM. You buy an album…you should own it forever…not, you only own it until the software program gets a new UI and base code…or the hardware device stops working.

ThomasHawk has posted many times about his disregard for the Apple/iTunes/iPod DRM policy. And, in this post, he argues the point that piracy is probably here to stay:

One thing's for sure, the MPAA and RIAA will never out-tech tech. Smart
artists are already figuring a lot of this out and finding alternative ways to embrace their fans.

And, I think ThomasHawk is stating basically the same thing as Cuban. The technology will always stay ahead of the law.

So, what then about breaking the DRM protection of Apple/iTunes/iPod? What about the advancing technology (a software update every week for iTunes???)? What about the pirates?

I have an iPod. I have a high regard for Apple. But, I don't use iTunes to rip my CDs.

When iTunes rips, it puts the files in Apple's proprietary format (.m4a or .m4p or .m4v) and not mp3. Those file extentions only work with iTunes. They won't work in WMP or Real or VLC. So, in other words, content I own and rip (using iTunes) becomes linked to iTunes…which , in effect is like transferring ownership to iTunes. Secondly, tracks purchased through the iTunes Music Store are also in the proprietary format. They ONLY work on the computer used to purchase the track(s) or on the iPod. Forget trying to play music you own anywhere else. Will iPods and iTunes even be around in ten years?

Instead, I use another program to rip the files…and save them as mp3s. And, in so doing, I'm bypassing DRM.

But, Apple is a juggernaut now in the digital music distribution and hardware business. Cracking their format is not possible as far as I know. And, despite their constant software updates and product introductions, they seem to have standardized their (closed) system within their own Apple universe. Their product is wonderfully designed. The RIAA is happy. The UI for the software is easily understood. What could be more ideal?

So, along comes the French to say, "Stop Right There!"…proving once again that whomever is at the top should always be paranoid. This Wired article, entitled "How France Is Saving Civilization", details the story that Apple's proprietary system (and thus the DRM) of which so many have criticized is under fire in France.

…the French parliament passed a law that would require digital content
bought at any online store to be playable on any hardware. The law
would be applicable to all hardware and service providers, but the
immediate impact would be on Apple and iTunes, and may prompt the
company to withdraw from France.

The article is a great (and short) read. I recommend reading all of it. Essentially, the collective wisdom of the article is that the French are concerned about a future monopoly.

This kind of vendor lock-in is a time-honored business practice in the tech industry, and is the exact same tactic successfully employed by Microsoft to build an illegal monopoly in desktop computers.

I think, however, that the article (while good) comes just short of the real reason. It's not just about the monopoly. Rather, I think their reasons are as Mark Cuban outlined. The property owner has rights too. The French are protecting the consumer.

This post at Engadget (and where I got the inspiration for my post title) gets closer to the point. Although Engadget brings up the piracy and monopoly points too, this line is included in the article:

Apple (and all DRMers) need to live with the consequences of their decisions. Content wants to be free. Content wants to move.

And, locking up that content (music or video) in a proprietary system in order to a) stop the piracy or b) control the consumer is wrong. The consumer should be allowed to make the final determination on how their property is used…not a computer company.

But wait, there's more…

Four years ago, Steve Jobs agreed. Apple's position on DRM has changed and they are now seen as hypocritical. This post at The Cult of Mac includes this:

In a 2002 interview with the Wall Street Journal, reprinted in part at Macworld, Jobs said:

"If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own."

Wow. So, why then does Apple distribute music using a format that only works on their device? Well, it is either because they wanted to 'lock-in' the consumers or they wanted to make their DRM tougher.

Yes, the consumer has obviously embraced the Apple position wholeheartedly and thus appear to invalidate the "content wants to be free" argument. BUT, I don't believe the consumer is truly aware of the ramifications of the DRM and they certainly have NOT considered Mark Cuban's point about future technological advancements rendering software or hardware obsolete.

To add a certain amount of irony to the whole debate above, Apple Corps is now suing Apple Comps for violations of a previous settlement. Read the whole story here. From the article:

Apple Corps, owned by the former Beatles and their heirs, still owns the licensing rights to Beatles’ products. It is claiming that the introduction of iTunes broke a $26 million settlement under which Apple Computer agreed to steer clear of the music business, for which the Beatles’ company retains the famous trademark. It is the latest clash in one of Britain’s longest-running corporate legal battles.

Essentially, the Beatles are suing Apple (again) for getting into the music biz. Or more plainly, the Beatles are suing Apple for their name. I love the Beatles. But, I wonder if they ever considered suing VW for naming a car the Beetle? Regardless, the lawyers will probably be the only winners in this battle.

(Shouldn't Eve of Garden of Eden fame be the original trademark holder for an apple?)

Yes, the point made by TUAW here is valid. Two companies of the same name, but of different industries, can peacefully coexist. From the article:

1) General Mills makes breakfast cereal. General Motors makes automobiles.
2) Discovery Channel is a television station. Discover Card is a credit card company.
3) Cisco makes networking switches. Sysco is a large food distributor.

See the pattern, Apple Corps? Just because two things have similar names, doesn't mean they are in competition with each other. I know your fear is that legions of confused consumers might end up wandering aimlessly around the growing number of Apple Stores looking for Beatles music but really, have a little more faith in the intelligence of your customers. After all, I don't hear stories of restaurants suddenly getting deliveries of Catalyst switches instead of potatoes, or people shopping for their Lucky Charms at their local dealership.

In this case, yes, I do believe the consumer is smart enough to tell the difference.
The irony in all of this is that the use of an "apple" by either company will be debated as a piece of (Trademark) Property Rights Management. Ultimately, ownership of property is at stake. And, if history proves, Apple Comp will be paying a settlement again, as a result of being on the wrong side of the issue. Another company 'owned' the use of an apple first. And, they have fought to keep the right to that 'property'. How 'bout them apples?

So, if technological advancement continues (and piracy persists), what options then exist for the property owners? Well, I don't exactly know, but I don't think we've seen the 'best' answer yet. I have a feeling, though, that it shouldn't include DRM. And, in that, the French are right and Apple is wrong.