EFF’s new guide to digital music services points to unexplained restrictions with Digital Rights Management Systems

October 2005

Record Labels

“If you buy music from an online music store, you may be getting much less than you thought” – that’s according to the The Electronic Frontiers Foundation. The EFF have just released “The Customer Is Always Wrong – A User’s Guide to DRM in Online Music,” which exposes how today’s digital rights management (DRM) systems can compromise a consumer’s right to lawfully manage his or her music the way she wants. The Guide takes a close look at popular online music services with built-in DRM created by Apple, RealNetworks, and Napster 2.0, as well as Microsoft’s “Plays for Sure” DRM labeling campaign. Although these companies claim their services allow consumers “freedom” and the ability to play music “any way you want it, The EFF suggests that “the reality often does not live up to the marketing hype”. When you download in these formats from online music services, the services don’t trumpet the fact that your music contains hidden restrictions that complicate your life and limit the universe of devices you can use to play your music. The Report points out that CDs purchased 20 years ago not only continue to play in every CD and DVD player, but can also be used with any of today’s PCs and digital music players. Thanks to DRM, however, a similar investment in music downloaded today may be much less valuable to you 20 years from now. The EFF rightly point out that bypassing the DRM to make perfectly legal uses puts people at risk of liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). “In this brave new world of ‘authorized digital music services,’ law-abiding music fans often get less for their money than they did in the old world of CDs,” said Derek Slater, the Harvard student and EFF intern who authored the guide. “Understanding how DRM and the DMCA pose a danger to your rights will help you to make fully informed purchasing decisions.”

“The Customer Is Always Wrong”: http://www.eff.org/IP/DRM/guide/

In a related article by the EFF, “TiVo Owners: Got Macrovision?” it is argued that updates often lead to ‘downgrades’ when it comes to consumer’s rights:

Have you noticed that when you “update” a product these days, you have to be on your guard lest the vendor slip in a “downgrade”? Like when Apple “updated” iTunes to reduce the number of burns you could make from the music you bought from the iTunes Music Store? Well, here’s another reminder of how “updates” can hurt you. As reported in the PVRBlog, the latest TiVo OS “update” causes some TiVos to start popping up red copyright warning flags on certain saved programs (including the Simpsons), threatening to automatically erase programs after a certain number of days. These restrictions are part of TiVo’s move, as reported last year, to lockdown and auto-erase content that is marked by broadcasters with Macrovision (a technology originally intended to befuddle analog VCRs, but now also being used as a flag to mark analog video for copy restrictions). It looks like it was a glitch on TiVo’s end this time. Only pay-per-view and “premium channel” (i.e., HBO) programs were supposed to be Macrovisioned. (In fact, section 1201(k)(2) of the Copyright Act forbids broadcasters from putting Macrovision on any other programs.) Of course, the fact that it was a glitch this time is should be no comfort to TiVo owners. When you bought your TiVo, you could record and keep the Sopranos, or Six Feet Under, or that exclusive boxing match. Thanks to the “updates” to your TiVo, now that capability can be taken away from you at the broadcaster’s whim. It’s a good reminder that, in an age when Hollywood is calling the DRM shots and technology companies acquiesce, “updates” may no longer be your friend.

The original version of this piece online: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/003979.php

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