Friends and colleagues of mine, knowing that I’m keen on these kinds of puzzles, recently peppered me with messages that read along these lines:
“Hey, I hear the new Dave Matthews CD can’t be copied! Know of a workaround?”
And so, I dutifully purchased yet another copy of
(I’d already grabbed the album from the iTunes Music Store to check out iTunes’ new video feature) and took a look.
For those new to the story, Sony BMG Music is in the early stages of releasing audio discs (they’re not official audio CDs as they don’t conform to the audio CD Redbook standard) that are copy protected in such a way that you can listen to the disc on your computer only after authorizing the CD as you would a piece of software. Once special software is installed and the disc authorized, you’re allowed to burn a single archive copy. The details of exactly what you can and can’t do with the disc are provided in a Read Me document placed on the data portion of the disc. The CD’s wrapper also includes a
link to a FAQ from SunnComm, the company responsible for the disc’s copy protection scheme.
Because I like to know what I’m up against before I venture into a new puzzle, I visited this FAQ. I admit that some of the FAQ’s comments made it look like this was going to be a tough nut to crack. For example:
Is this CD playable on my computer?:
Yes, similar to other software and games, usage of the CD on your computer does require your acceptance of the end user license agreement and installation of specific software contained on the CD. It also requires your computer to be appropriately configured. Please review the Systems Requirements documented on the package of the CD you are trying to play.
So, I plunked the disc into my Dell PC and, sure enough, just like with a Windows app, the CD asked that I install a hunk of software that would allow it to play. After that software was installed, the disc wouldn’t show up in iTunes.
No iTunes support!?
Surely you jest.
With heavy heart I returned to the FAQ and read:
Apple’s proprietary technology doesn’t support secure music formats other than their own, and therefore the secure music file formats on this disc can’t be directly imported into iTunes or iPods.
While these discs aren’t currently compatible with iTunes or iPod, we are actively working on an acceptable solution, and have reached out to Apple in hopes of addressing this issue. To help speed this effort, we ask that you use the following link to contact Apple and ask them to provide a solution that would easily allow you to move content from protected CDs into iTunes or onto your iPod: http://www.apple.com/feedback/ipod.html
In case Apple’s representatives haven’t yet come up with an answer to the feedback it’s likely to receive, let me propose this simple answer:
Buy a Mac.
That’s right, despite SunnComm’s claims that its copy protection scheme makes its wares incompatible with iTunes—and therefore the iPod—when I inserted my Dave Matthews disc into three different Macs, the disc appeared, played,
ripped and burned
in iTunes (and transferred to my iPod) with nary a glitch, and without the need for an authorizing utility.
is the kind of technology that the music industry hopes will stem the tide of piracy!?
God help them.
And they’ll need that help for a couple of different reasons.
Reason 1: The 12 Year Old Boy Factor
I strongly recommend that before any entity considers spending millions of dollars on copy protection they sketch out their scheme on a piece of graph paper, set it before a 12 year old boy, and watch him unravel it in something under three minutes.
It’s a fact. Boys are their most wily just before the onset of puberty. They’ve got all their faculties, have no notion of property rights, and—unlike males from 13-‘til-death—are not governed by their hormones. There’s nothing a 12 year old boy likes better than taking apart that which adults have deemed impenetrable. I’m well into post-puberty—and therefore confused much of the time—and all it took was me trying the disc on a different computer platform to crack this scheme. Imagine what could happen in the hands of little Scooter down the block.
For this reason I suggest that Sony BMG paste this on its bathroom mirror:
That which can be locked, will be unlocked—by a 12 year old boy.
Reason 2: We Have Other Choices
Sony BMG’s implementation of this scheme smacks of nothing less than a bunch of guys sitting around in a board room somewhere convincing each other that copy protecting CDs is inevitable.
“Consumers are just going to have to understand that we have no other choice. Copy protection is the future! We’ve seen it in software and we’re going to see it in music distribution. Get used to it.”
With outfits like the iTunes Music Store, customers have another choice. If they can buy Dave and the boys’ latest music on the Internet and then burn that music to CDs and play it on their iPods, why on earth would they use one of these poisoned discs?
Consumers rejected the last go-round of copy-protected discs—you know, the ones that could lock up your computer—and should they hold their noses again, the boys in the board room may have to snuff out the victory cigars and come up with another plan.
That other plan may be in evidence in the form of the DualDisc. These are discs that contain audio on one side and video on the other. This is the carrot side of the equation—a plan where people are encouraged to buy the disc because it contains content that can’t be found online. Although some people have found that DualDiscs don’t work in their computers (largely because the discs are a little thicker than standard audio CDs and won’t spin up on media drives with a tight tolerance), they’re not copy protected.
I’m sorry, Sony BMG, but it’s time to tilt down the rearview mirror and start looking ahead. The genie’s out of the bottle and no amount of pressure will put it back. Give me a disc that entices me with content I can’t get elsewhere and I may give that disc a spin. Make your wares incompatible with my iPod (and blame Apple for your decision to do so) and I’ll never buy your stuff again.
Oh, and SunnComm, hire a 12 year old boy.