5/19/2005

While everything is open... Everything is shut down, down, down

So just when I thought that the Dave Matthews Band had finally seen the light, it looks like they really haven't got a clue.

I had seen some scattered reports of fans having problems ripping the new DMB album, Stand Up, I originally thought that it may be due to the new DualDisc format that was offered. A DualDisc is a single disc that is an audio CD on one side and a DVD disc on the other. The end result is a fairly nifty contraption that lacks the nice printed artwork surface of a standard CD or DVD, but offers the two discs in the space of one. Stand Up is offered as a CD or DualDisc option. The last album, Busted Stuff, included a DVD in addition to a standard audio CD, an option which I would have preferred, as evidenced below.



It turns out that fans are having trouble with both the DualDisc and compact disc version of the album. I only have the DualDisc version so that is all I can comment on so far.

I noticed on the back of the album there is the following disclaimer:

*The audio side of this disc does not conform to the CD specifications and therefore not all DVD and CD players will play the audio side of this disc.



Notice that the FBI warning is much larger and easier to read than the compatibility disclaimer.

Also notice the lack of the Compact Disc logo that is usually found on CDs. The disc shipped in a different-shaped casing than the standard jewel case that audio CDs usually ship in. The case is the same size but one edge is curved instead of straight. I imagine this due to the fact that the jewel case is associated with a standard audio CD, which this is not. However this is all still a bit fishy.



The strangeness lies in the fact that, by its description (as described on a little flyer found inside the case), DualDisc itself doesn't change the Audio CD spec. There may actually be some sort of DRM layer applied to the audio side, in addition to the DualDisc technology. It seems this DRM technology is what is causing ripping problems for some users. The problems people are reportings are still inconsistent so it is unclear if the DualDisc version actually contains any DRM technologies, or if some optical drives are having trouble reading the CD surface. By some reports, it appears that the audio-only version of the disc contains DRM technology.

Recently the DMB posted a notice on their official site with information on how to "move your content into iTunes and onto an iPod". Interestingly the directions tell you to rip the CD in iTunes normally for Mac users, but Windows users must allow the CD's proprietary software to load (and agree to its license), and burn the protected Windows Media Player files that ship on the CD, then rip that newly burned CD into iTunes. This process of course severly degrades the quality of the audio from the already degraded Windows Media compression, is time consuming, actually costs the listener money (in the form of a blank CD), and is quite annoying. Also, if you want to burn using a different program (like Winamp) you must "obtain a license to do so." So the felons, err, fans now must "obtain a license" to burn the music that they've already paid for.

This DRM solution sounds quite a bit like SunnComm's DRM technology, the same technology that Alex Halderman (funny picture of Alex) discovered could be circumvented by holding down the shift key while loading the CD into your computer. While I am still unclear about the origins of the technology, the workaround is still the same. I personally can't really talk more about the appearance of the proprietary Windows software used because I don't use Windows regularly (and my PC is currently running Linux). Ironically, owning a Mac has made me MORE COMPATIBLE with the CD than PCs. This after I've ranted on and on about how DMB is igoring Mac users by selling Windows Media Player tracks on their web site. Maybe I should be happy to be ignored.



Yet the directions on dmband.com don't stop there. Here's the kicker, they are actually BLAMING APPLE for this incompatibility:

Please note an easier and more acceptable solution requires cooperation from Apple, who we have already reached out to 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 rather than having to go through the additional steps above. http://www.apple.com/feedback/ipod.html

So let me get this straight. You decide to ship a non-standard audio CD and then complain that Apple won't support your proprietary music files on their player which supports all standard audio CDs as-is? Wouldn't it have been a whole lot easier if you just shipped a standard audio CD instead of a DRM'd disc? Why ship a non-standard CD that costs more to produce and is known to be incompatible with the iPod, when you know that your listeners will want to load the tracks onto their iPod? The band is purposely shipping a CD that isn't compatible with the iPod, when it would be easier to ship a CD that IS compatible, and they still blame someone else for all the problems that they are causing!

I've been pretty critical of the band's business actions in the past, but this really takes the cake. The band is now treating their fans like criminals. Apparently we're not mature enough to handle their audio recordings without the protection of DRM or they might end up on some of those nasty file sharing services out there. Well guess what? It's alredy there. The album leaked long before. Not only that, but the whole album was up on VH1.com as a protected Windows Media Stream and a bunch of fans extracted the supposedly *protected* audio and then spread the files all over the internet. That shows just how useful this protection is.

For a band that has been so liberal with their taping policy (allowing fans to record their shows for free) this really hurts. They obviously knew there was going to be some backlash from this. This is evident in the form of a notice that shipped with the bonus companion CD that was offered to DMB fan club members who pre-ordered the CD. (I'll avoid the rant on how ridiculous the shipping charges were with the pre-order, since someone else has already covered that.) The companion CD shipped in a cardboard sleeve, sealed in plastic. This insert was included inside the sealed sleeve:



So Musictoday is basically giving a big finger to all those people who complain that the CD is un-rippable since that isn't a "manufacturer defect" (it's actually the manufacturer's intention). What bothers me even more about this notice is that it is included in a separate bonus CD. The actual Stand Up album itself is sealed separately. I opened the album first, and then opened the bonus CD and found the notice, meaning that Musictoday did not inform me of their policy until I had already opened the album, at which point they will not take it back. This seems like a catch-22 to me, a catch-22 where Musictoday always wins and the criminal customer always loses.

To reiterate, what the band is doing here is shipping a non-standard audio CD that intentionally causes problems and is laying the blame on someone else for the problems which their users are experiencing. They are essentially causing a problem and blaming someone else for it. This is the same thing I used to do when I juice on the carpet as little kid and I blamed it on my sister. The big difference here is that the Dave Matthews Band/Musictoday/Redlight Management/Coran Caphshaw/RCA Records are grown adults and should be held accountable for their actions. The only contact email address that I can find for the band is fanmail@davematthewsband.com. There is also a feedback address for Musictoday, Red Light Management and RCA Records.

I recommend writing a brief, poignant email to the band and CCing the other addresses. If you would like help you can start with mine:



Dear DMB,

I am offended and insulted that you would ship an album that is non-standard and intentionally difficult to rip to a computer or iPod. I am insulted that you would provide "directions" on a workaround and have the nerve to blame Apple, a company that is not at all responsible for this problem, and even encourage me to contact Apple about the problem, which was entirely created by you.

I am hurt that you would infringe on my first amendment right to free speech by limiting my use of the album. I am also hurt that you would violate my rights as a consumer set forth by the Supreme Court Sony Betamax decision of 1984 that gives me the right to spaceshift the content that I purchase (transfer the content to another device).

For a band that claims to have such high regard for civil liberties, this is a most dissapointing action.

Sincerely,
---

Click this link to open up the email and cut and paste the message above to get started.

UPDATES:

In response to some more information that I've been reading, I've changed the above to reflect the possibility that the DualDisc version contains no DRM and that the audio-only version does.

I also want to respond to the idea that I'm somehow angry about DMB looking to screw Mac/iPod users in some way. That is not the case. What bothers me is the band's inability to take responsibility for their own actions. If this was the label's call, and not their own, then the fan community should be just as concerned. The band renegotiated their contract with RCA last year and the band walked away with one of the best contracts in the industry for an artist. So if the band's contract allows for the label to ship these discs, in favor of giving the band more money, then the band obviously does not put the rights of their fans very high on their priority list.