No, I’m not crazy

It’s no secret that I’ve been pretty frustrated with the record industry’s use of CD copy-protection schemes and their tendency to blame the fact that they don’t work with the iPod on Apple. Needless to say, when reading Freedom to Tinker today I was excited to learn that Ed Felten and Alex Halderman agree with me.

Freedom to Tinker has been a favorite blog of mine for the past 18 months. It is run by one my Computer Science Professors at Princeton, Ed Felten. I took Ed’s Information Security class in the fall of 2003 and I was fascinated by security design and policy. DRM has also been an interest of mine, as I wrote my Junior Independent Work paper on the future of DRM. Needless to say that paper is now very outdated (although cited across the internet in foreign-langauge papers that I do not understand) thanks to Apple turning the DRM world on its head just 4 days before my paper was due in May 2003. For my Senior Independent Work (the jukebox) I chose to ignore the DRM issue altogether. I was in some CS classes with Alex Halderman ‘03, who is now a graduate student under Ed. Alex has written some great papers in the past about DRM technology (he’s the one that caused SunnComm’s stock to tank) and has focused on issues that are important to me in the areas of computer privacy at Princeton. Alex is now a guest blogger on Freedom To Tinker as well.

Ed and Alex have been posting draft excerpts from their upcoming paper on CD DRM technologies to their web site in order to solicit feedback. I have enjoyed reading this information so far as it offers a great overview of both the technical and political issues involved and the hidden business agendas of the players involved. Today’s excerpt contains a section on the iPod-compatibility (or lack thereof) with the copy-protected CDs using XCP and MediaMax technology. The following excerpt clearly sums up what I’ve been saying all along:

Conspicuously absent from the XCP and MediaMax players is support for the Apple iPod—by far the most popular portable music player with more than 80% of the market [citation]. A Sony FAQ blames Apple for this shortcoming and urges users to direct complaints to them:”Unfortunately, in order to directly and smoothly rip content into iTunes it requires the assistance of Apple. To date, Apple has not been willing to cooperate with our protection vendors to make ripping to iTunes and to the iPod a simple experience.’’ [citation]. Strictly speaking, it is untrue that Sony requires Apple’s cooperation to work with the iPod. They ship thousands of albums that work “smoothly’’ with iTunes every day: unprotected CDs. What Sony has difficulty doing is moving music to the iPod while keeping it wrapped in copy protection. This is because Apple has so far refused to license its proprietary DRM, a system called FairPlay.

The labels don’t need Apple to support the iPod, they just need to stop treating their customers like criminals. As I’ve been saying for months, if they would just ship normal CDs there wouldn’t be an issue. The labels obviously have a (not so) hidden agenda here. I consider Ed and Alex the leading academic authority on DRM so it means a lot to me for them to have the same position.

On a related note, Ed and Alex will be appearing at an upcoming Spyware workshop at NYU in March. Seeing as how I work with NYU regularly and live fairly close I’ll be attending. There are some high profile speakers and panelists. It should be interesting.