There’s more to the Apple-EMI deal than the mainstream press cares to tell.
EMI is a record label. Apple Computer, a nascent audio distributor, wants to compete in EMI’s market via the iPod, iTunes music program, and iTunes Music Service (iTMS). iTMS only works with the iPod. EMI recently agreed to distribute tracks via iTMS without Digital Restrictions Management—technological restrictions that keep users from doing things they want to do with their legally-obtained tracks. Users don’t want digital restrictions, so EMI and Apple are offering DRM-free tracks at a 30% higher price than the same track with DRM. With Apple’s Digital Restrictions Management users had to work around the restrictions. One popular method was to burn their iTMS tracks to an audio CD then copy (or “rip”) those tracks back to the computer in some form that offered no encumbrance (MP3 was a popular choice for this). Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been busy:
- The latest version of the iTunes program breaks the ability to convert the music you’ve bought — even “DRM-free” songs sold at a 30 percent premium — into MP3s that will play on your iPod.—when you rip the CD with iTunes (as opposed to some other audio CD ripper program), EFF says that iTunes 7.2 breaks “the “buy-burn-rip-to-MP3″ workaround has been the primary way to start with a 99 cent iTunes download and end up with an unrestricted MP3 that will play” anywhere. Anyone using the proprietary iTunes program to manage their music will probably be bitten by this “upgrade” soon because Apple makes it easy to switch to the latest version of their software. If iTunes were free software—software that respects a user’s freedom to share and modify the program—there would be a community eagerly hacking an improved version of iTunes that didn’t have these restrictions. This community would allow even non-technical users to switch to using a version of the program that allowed copying music to their iPods as they like.
- Boing Boing tells us that “EFF’s technologists have found a hidden block of data in the new iTunes tracks”—it holds customer data. When you transfer an iTunes Music Service track, legally or illegally, you’re also distributing someone’s name and address. This didn’t happen with other forms of audio media: people who bought wax cylinders, vinyl records, audio tapes, or mass-produced audio CDs could get the audio without worrying about inadvertently passing along copies of someone’s personal information (possibly their own) when they leveraged their right of first sale. This right is the backbone of everyday events like garage sales, used CD stores, and library sales. But Apple probably has you covered: as George Hotelling learned the hard way, it’s needlessly difficult to sell an iTMS track without divulging personal info.