January 4, 2008
RIAA Disputes Report on Illegality of Copying Legal CDs to a Computer
NPR hosted a debate between Marc Fisher, the Washington Post reporter who claims that the RIAA is making legal arguments that copying MP3s to a computer is essentially piracy ("unauthorized copies") and Cary Sherman, head of the RIAA. Sherman flatly denies that is the case, and statements made by other representatives of labels to the contrary do not represent the views of the RIAA or its legal positions. So far. Sherman disputed the report by saying the RIAA has never brought a case over copying music to a computer or an MP3 player. Do the words "We have not taken the stance..." mean they never will?
A report of the debate is here. You can hear the debate here if you have the execrable RealPlayer installed. With any luck we can get off this music thread for a while and focus on other things, like who Vonage is settling a patent dispute with this week. It happens to be Nortel. The line forms to the right.
Sony Caves in on DRM for Digital Downloads
Sony BMG has announced that it, too, will sell it's music without DRM technology, thus joining the other three major labels in offering truly portable music playable on any MP3 player. No one would have thought this possible a year ago as the labels pointedly dug their heels in on this issue. But with Steve Job's open letter on music and DRM pushing the discussion, and EMI later going along with the idea of high quality tracks with no restrictions nudged the rest of the industry along in the same direction. And consumers are better off for it. The labels are as well, as no viable competitor to iTunes would likely emerge with significant DRM restrictions in place. All they seemed to do was to drive more traffic to Apple, not that Steve Jobs minded that. It's possible, now, that the Amazon store may become a viable competitor to iTunes along with other online outlets. The fortunes of the music industry may be on the rise over this.
Details are in Business Week.
January 3, 2008
Office 2003 SP3 Blocks Older Office Files From Opening
Microsoft has added a "feature" to Office 2003 SP3. It blocks files from older versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from opening or saving. The service pack also blocks files from Lotus, Quattro, and Corel Draw. These formats are a security threat according to Knowledge Base article 938810.
The article suggests a few work arounds. The easiest is to find an unpatched copy of Office 2003 and work away in unsecured bliss. The second is to modify the registry to unblock the file formats. The steps, though detailed, are not for the squeamish when it comes to potentially crippling the operating system. The third method not mentioned is to use an Office competitor that still opens these file formats. They include Open Office, Star Office (this one costs), Star Office via Google Pack (this one doesn't), and IBM Lotus Symphony, among others.
The Open Office Writer page notes that "WRITER can of course read all your old Microsoft Word documents, or save your work in Microsoft Word format for sending to people who are still locked into Microsoft products." That is, assuming the compatible formats aren't blocked by Service Pack 3. I don't suppose that Microsoft's motive is to lock out files these programs might create that interoperate with MS Office. Still, these suites offer a way of getting to the content of archived files without destroying your computer in the process.
More On The RIAA's Efforts
This YouTube takes the RIAA efforts to its absurd conclusion. Just for fun, view it here.
January 2, 2008
Copy Your Own CDs, Face Liability
The music industry is in trouble. Nielson Soundscan stated that CD sales fell 21.4% for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2007 compared to the same stretch of time in 2006. Apparently giving the gift of music means a gift card for a download or subscription service rather than a physical disc. These are a better fit for consumers who listen to music walking on the street, sitting on a train, or anywhere else not near a CD player. But legal downloads just haven't offset the drop in CD sales. One guess as to why is that the DRM mandated sales are not as convenient when consumers seek real portability for their music. And besides, consumers own a sizable amount of digital music on legally purchased CDs. Who wants to buy the same thing twice? Not that the labels haven't forced us to do that before, what with compilations and greatest hit collections. No longer, though. Every song is a single with most download services. Still, as far as the labels are concerned, we're not buying enough music.
No wonder, then, that the RIAA is desperately ramping up legal arguments that copying a legally purchased physical CD to a computer or a player is piracy. Doping that may not get you noticed enough to generate a lawsuit on its own, but once in the cross hairs of a file sharing suit, well, having your own legally purchased music on your hard drive is just another avenue for liability. That is, assuming the RIAA can get a court to recognize the precedent. They are trying. They've made the argument in papers filed in an Arizona court against Jeffrey Howell. He allegedly copied around 2,000 of his CDs to his computer in addition to whatever allegations there are about file sharing. the RIAA calls these "unauthorized copies." This argument, of course, puts everyone who ever copied a CD to an MP3 player in jeopardy.
In spite of the morality of legitimate copyright issues over music piracy, has there ever been an industry that dislikes its customers as much as this one? Despite the lawsuits, it seems the industry is fighting a losing battle with consumers on how they purchase music. One would think that the labels have the means to copy protect everything. They probably do, though that is probably a financially risky path to take. Look at Sony and their ham-fisted attempt to add DRM to CDs. Don't the labels have any more imagination than that? Maybe they do.
The labels may be changing, somewhat, with the announcement that the Warner Music Group will be selling music as unprotected MP3s through the Amazon music store. That leaves Sony BMG as the only holdout. Universal decided to go this way months ago. EMI led the way last May with unprotected songs via iTunes and anyone else who cared to sell its music. The industry is grudgingly changing its business model to meet reality. Warner was adamant that they would keep DRM when Steve Jobs wrote his famous letter suggesting the labels would make more money without DRM. Now they've cut that deal although pointedly without the iTunes store in the equation. That should change as iTunes is a major distribution outlet. The labels need to get comfortable with the idea that selling music will never be the same as it was in the days of vinyl and albums. When that happens we'll all be wondering what took them so long, assuming they are still in business.