Confessions of a HDTV Shop Employee
HDTV is a countdown to obsolete hardware, with the unintended (or maybe just unpublicized) side effect being that viewers have fewer options, since all-digital technology can be more easily restricted. Today, we present an anonymous tale from a shop employee of some of the problems around digital TV -- how consumers are being sold on the idea of HDTV, what that means for censorship and DRM.
Thanks to everyone who's sent in details of PC games. We've already covered Spore and SecuROM -- today we're touching on GTA IV, and offering some free software alternatives.
Act 1 -- Grand Fail Auto
One of the most anticipated games of 2008 has finally been released -- defectively -- by Rockstar Games. Yes, GTA IV is laden with the same DRM that has plagued gamers so much this year -- SecuROM.
On the subject, Rockstar announced:
You may have heard this week, that iTunes was going DRM-free. Of course, it didn't happen. Apple's iTunes, under Steve Jobs, is still stubbornly the only major distributor of DRM-encumbered music at a time when Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, eMusic, Magnatune, 7 Digital and more are all selling music without restriction.
Thanks for all your great submissions so far.
Jeremy Wahl writes to warn us of the dangers of the Wii console and Nintendo's attitudes towards DRM and its customers. For his efforts, Jeremy wins a DBD tshirt and free album courtesy of Magnatune.
Nintendo's Wii uses a system similar to iTunes cards. You buy cards in stores, or points via your console with a credit card. The points can be used to buy emulated versions of classic games or downloads of software and new, smaller games, called WiiWare.
Mike McCarty sends in his horror story of being a Prince fan, as a reminder of some of the tricks being pulled on music fans in this DRM age. Mike wins one of our T-shirts and a DRM-free album from Magnatune.
We begin with the demise of Prince's DRM-music service, New Power Generation.
Act One. Prince's music service: Defective by Design
Luckily I only purchased one of MANY DRM-laden album from Prince's now defunct New Power Generation website, Xpectation. It came in the DRM-encumbered Windows Media format, but this was before I was ever aware of the horrors of DRM. Ironically, I EXPECTED the files to work pretty much forever, maybe not forever but at least a few good years. However, I guess the joke was on me as I misplaced the files on an external harddrive a year or so ago and recently located them only to find out there's absolutely nothing I can do with them.
This is pretty common with digital files, but many of the DRM-free providers such as Magnatune and eMusic allow you to redownload your purchases directly from them.
Act Two: Prince's war on the Internet
Prince's war with all things internet has left me with quite the sour taste in my mouth. Pointing my browser to the website I purchased the album from confirms that the address cannot be found. No surprise. I think it's been gone for at least a year or two now. A while back I had heard the site went under and that Prince had begun using his MySpace page. This has since been shut down as well.
As The Register noted last September:
Teaming up with Web Sheriff, the firm currently known as "Europe's leading internet policing specialist," the Minnesota-born pop star has already ordered YouTube and eBay to remove hundreds of supposedly Prince-infringing web items, and he's intent on filing suit against the two web behemoths - not to mention Swedish BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay.
Mike continues his story:
Searching Prince fan sites such as Housequake, prince.org and a few others have led me to the fact that there pretty much is no way to contact Prince OR his camp in ANY form whatsoever. Also, there was never any mention to his fanclub (which I DID pay $25 to join) that they would no longer be supporting the DRM-laden files when the NPG Music Club went under. No other fans, or what Prince likes to call "Friends", knew what to do about the files either. The only suggestion I was given, which isn't possible now that the files cannot be played, was to burn the files to a cd and rip them back to mp3 if I want to put them on the ol' mp3 player. Well... the files won't play, so how am I supposed to burn them? It's just not possible.
Ah yes, the burn-to-a-CD-defense. This is a pretty common reaction to the problem that DRM causes. Of course, buying DRMed media, burning to a CD, and ripping the CD, all takes time and effort and means losing quality. Often DRMed music makes it hard for you to burn it to a CD -- you have to use specific proprietary software to do a job that is much better done elsewhere.
Act Three: You wouldn't treat your friends like this...
I used to be a massive Prince fan -- I won't say friend since I certanly wouldn't treat a friend the way he's treating his fans, but his adamancy about people stealing or sharing his work has alienated me and I'm sure quite a few others. Sure he gave away Musicology when you saw him in concert a few years back, but I still PAID for the Xpectation album and feel that I should be able to listen to it as long as I keep the files handy. I WILL NOT purchase another DRM-laden file ever.
Thanks Prince, for absolutely nothing except a good old-fashioned lesson in what not to do in future.
If you put Microsoft at the center of your home entertainment system, be prepared to hand them the remote control, literally.
This year we've also seen some significant closures of various DRM services -- first MSN Music, then Yahoo Music. Yahoo offered refunds in the end, but it highlights the very real problem of DRM services closing down. Yahoo and Microsoft aren't even going out of business, yet they've closed DRM services. Google has done the same thing with its video store.
Netflix currently offers streaming of movies at no extra charge with many of its DVD rental plans. The streaming service, which requires Microsoft Windows Media and Microsoft Silverlight technologies in order to operate, uses Digital Restrictions Management technologies to limit playback to authorized devices, such as the Netflix set top box, Microsoft's XBOX 360 console and personal computers running Microsoft's Windows or Apple's Mac OS X operating systems.
If you're in the UK, please lend your support to this petition against SecuROM.
"With more and more consumers being effectively handcuffed by games producers using draconian methods of DRM, we require the government to protect our rights as consumers by investigating this issue. We maintain that 'limited installs' and 'online activation' are both misleading, immoral and discriminatory.
Sadly, President Bush has allowed himself and the Department of Justice to be manipulated by the RIAA and MPAA. On October 13th, he signed the PRO-IP bill into law, ignoring calls to veto it and pretty clear indications that the bill was promoted using completely fabricated statistics.
In order for any program to be installed on the iPhone, the program must be cryptographically signed. When a user attempts to install software on her iPhone, the iPhone's Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) system checks to see if Apple considers the signature on the software to be valid.
If there is no signature or if the signature is invalid, the iPhone will refuse to install the software. If the software has been modified in any way, the signature check will fail. The signature check is also tied to the user's specific device, which means that she is not permitted to transfer or copy downloaded programs directly between iPhones, and any other copying is permitted or not permitted at Apple's whim. This system of rejecting software that doesn't pass a signature check -- even when modifications to the software are legally permitted -- was made famous by TiVo, and so is called "tivoization".
Yahoo! has announced that its music store will be going offline at the end of September, taking with it the authorization keys for any music purchased. This appears to be something of a trend lately, with Microsoft announcing similar plans, only to go back on its original plans a few days later.
As Ars Technica puts it, "The bad dream of DRM continues" -- "Once the Yahoo store goes down and the key servers go offline, existing tracks cannot be authorized to play on new computers."
Major League Baseball and Google Video have both pulled similar stunts, with Google at least providing a refund for the media, but no DRM-free replacement.
Yahoo's own Ben Patterson spoke to Michael Spiegelman, the senior director for Yahoo! Music, about keeping the DRM servers going, like MSN has promised to do...
"We can't really talk to the specific numbers [in terms of cost]," said Spiegelman, adding that Yahoo! uses a third-party service to host its DRM license keys. "To be honest, it's a question of whether we want to spend the money supporting DRM tracks, versus spending that money on what people really do want [subscription and/or DRM-free music]."
When asked about replacing any purchased, DRM'd Yahoo! Music tracks with the equivalent DRM free tracks from Rhapsody, Spiegelman replied "We'll take those situations in a case-by-case fashion... We will be able to help users out who have a large number of tracks... We're not saying that that would be an impossible option... We'll see how much of a demand there is for it."
Are you a Yahoo! Music customer? Contact Yahoo! Support and demand DRM-free replacements for all the songs you've legally purchased.
Update: Yahoo: We'll Reimburse Users for Terminated Music
CNET is reporting that customers will be offered refunds or DRM-free downloads, while Wired News is saying any DRM-free downloads could break any agreements Yahoo! has with record labels.
Last week, we announced 5 reasons to avoid the iPhone. This has been met with a lot of excitement and some great feedback.
Some important questions were raised in this feedback. So, here is an opportunity to have some fun and get answers, straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.
In every Apple retail store is a so-called "Genius Bar" -- a technical support station, the purpose of which is to offer help and support for Apple products.
You can use Apple's helpful online booking system (no registration required) to reserve time slots at the Genius Bar. There are currently 217 Apple stores in seven countries, giving us plenty of slots to book. We want as many people as possible to book slots this Friday, July 25, and Saturday, July 26. Why not book more than one? Having lots of slots booked will get Apple's attention and ensure that the Geniuses have done their homework.
Take these three easy steps to give Apple our iPhone Challenge:
1) Book a 10-minute slot now!
2) Let us know which stores you have booked using our online counter.
At the Genius Bar....
Print out our handy questionnaire and information about how iPhone 3G restricts your freedom. If you have access to a color printer, you can also print out some of our snazzy iPhone flyers to hand out to people outside the store when you're done.
Head over to your local Apple Store at your designated time. Be sure to get a business card from your Genius first and then politely ask them the questions. For each question, give them a score between 1 and 32, with 1 being a really bad answer, and 32 being an answer that really showed insight into the restrictive practices of the iPhone.
The total score will be out of 160 -- the IQ level of Einstein, a certified genius. Rate your Genius's iQ to the same score, and if they get over 130, they're a genius -- any lower than that, and they're screwed. Glory and infamy awaits!
If you feel your Genius did particularly well, or particularly badly, please let us know their name, email address, and the store address -- it'll be on their business card. We'll send prizes and information accordingly.
Start by introducing yourself to your Genius.
"I'm from the DRM elimination crew at DefectiveByDesign.org -- I'd like to ask you a few questions about the defects Apple has designed into the iPhone 3G."
Why do all developers have to submit their applications to Apple before they can be loaded onto an iPhone?
Most smartphones, including those by OpenMoko, Nokia, RIM, Palm and even Microsoft, allow applications to come from a variety of sources, including free software developers. Free "as in freedom" software development requires that users and developers be able to share and modify the source code for programs they use. iPhone users are not permitted by Apple to share or load modified versions of programs distributed through the App Store -- even when a program's developer wants users to be able to do this! Apple markets itself as empowering, alternative technology -- How does Apple plan to support free software development?
Why does iTunes still contain so much DRM-laden music?
Services like Amazon, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody, Play.com and 7digital are all selling music without DRM. A typical response to this might be that Apple has no option to sell media without DRM, but this is simply untrue. Jobs is the largest individual shareholder at Disney, and he could insist that its films be DRM-free. Apple should be leading the way to promote DRM-free music, but instead is lagging behind. What is Apple doing to fix this? If it really is the RIAA's fault, can you tell me specifically what the RIAA said to Jobs when he asked for the ability to sell DRM-free music?
The iPhone 3G has GPS support. How can users be sure that the GPS cannot be used to track their position, without their permission?
When the only thing preventing the GPS from being used is software, and the software in question is known only to Apple, why should iPhone users trust Apple? There is a privacy agreement, but how would I ever know that the agreement was violated?
In 'Thoughts on Music', Steve Jobs said, "it is useful to remember that all iPods play music that is free of any DRM and encoded in 'open' licensable formats such as MP3 and AAC".
If Jobs really wants to see open formats, why doesn't the iPhone play Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Theora video and FLAC? These formats require no licensing costs, and are not encumbered by patents. How does Apple plan to support these formats in the future? Will Apple approve applications for the App Store that support these formats?
Last question. Why can the iPhone 3G only be activated by Apple and AT&T?
In the United States, the Register of Copyrights has ruled that consumers have the right to unlock their phones and switch to a different carrier. How does Apple plan to remedy this discrepancy?
Give your Genius their score, your contact information (if you want) and your handout, along with any additional feedback you have about the defects in iPhone 3G. Thank them for their time, and quickly and politely leave the store. Outside the store, distribute some of the flyers and spend some time talking to people about these issues.
Let us know how it went by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Genius's information, score, and your comments.
From their website —
Experience DRM-Freedom: Rhapsody MP3s aren't restricted by DRM. If acronyms aren't your thing, that means; when you buy a song or album from Rhapsody you can do whatever you want with it. Put it on your iPod or any other MP3 player, play it on as many computers as you want, or burn it to a CD as many times as you want.
Naxos has also moved to MP3 -- making audiobooks available in the format, with a huge selection of contemporary and classic titles, Naxos is a great place to get audiobooks.
What does this tell us? Well for one, Audible and iTunes are yet again, deceiving users with their DRM-laden materials. It also shows that more and more people are saying no to Digital Restrictions Management and that existing services are having to adapt to meet those demands.
Bruce Schneier has brought a new form of Digital Restrictions Management to our attention:
Microsoft is doing some of the most creative thinking along these lines, with something it's calling "Digital Manners Policies." According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.
It sounds innocent enough, until Schneier pulls back the curtain to show the real motivation behind these policies:
Don't be fooled by the scare stories of wireless devices on airplanes and in hospitals, or visions of a world where no one is yammering loudly on their cellphones in posh restaurants. This is really about media companies wanting to exert their control further over your electronics. They not only want to prevent you from surreptitiously recording movies and concerts, they want your new television to enforce good "manners" on your computer, and not allow it to record any programs. They want your iPod to politely refuse to copy music a computer other than your own. They want to enforce their legislated definition of manners: to control what you do and when you do it, and to charge you repeatedly for the privilege whenever possible.
Consumers are objecting en masse to the idea of their own computers and devices continuously and indiscriminately policing their activities via Digital Restrictions Management. So it's no surprise that Microsoft is hatching plans to soft-pedal these same restrictions under the term "manners." This is just old wine in new bottles -- Microsoft wants another way to control your activities.
Since they would be the patent holder, they can profit from selling this ability to monitor and control you to others. There's no doubt that their main customers would be the same media distribution companies who are struggling to cripple the technology that makes them irrelevant -- technology that enables many more artists and creators to share their works directly with the public.
Microsoft's patent abstract says:
Similar to some of the social manners honored among people, such as with "no smoking" or "employees only" zones, "no swimming" or "no flash photography" areas, and scenarios for "please wash your hands" or "no talking out loud", devices may recognize and comply with analogous "device manners" policy.
It's common for companies pedaling digital restrictions to try to find parallels in the analog world, to make the restrictions seem familiar and correct. But these are flawed comparisons -- no machine covers your mouth with duct tape when you enter a "no smoking" zone just to make sure that you don't smoke. Nobody breaks your fingers to make sure that you don't use the flash on your camera in a museum.
Digital restrictions require you to hand over your privacy and freedom in advance. They are inherently unsafe because people other than the intended parties can access these mechanisms for monitoring and restricting you. They are inherently untrustworthy because you aren't legally allowed to know what's going on behind the scenes on the device in your pocket, including the contents of its continuous conversation with whichever corporation it's reporting to. The purpose of the restrictions might sound benign but their mechanism is unacceptable -- and what these companies are actually after is acceptance of the mechanism, so that they can then put it to other uses.
Digital Restrictions Management and "Digital Manners Policies" both use the fear that some people might not do the right thing to justify treating everyone like a criminal and taking away our freedom. We shouldn't accept this justification to cripple what are otherwise incredibly useful and powerful tools for innovation and creativity. "Digital Manners Policies" are really "Digital Monitoring Policies," and we should refuse them.