Norway Says Apple's FairPlay DRM Isn't So Fair

from the crowbar-as-a-business-tool dept

Last year, the Norwegian Consumer Council filed some complaints about the terms of service of the iTunes Music Store. The council was unhappy with Apple's response, and pressed on, and now the country's consumer ombudsman says that the DRM used on ITMS purchases is illegal, because it doesn't allow playback on any music players other than iPods. The ombudsman has given Apple three choices: it can license its FairPlay DRM to anybody that wants it, it can work with other companies to create an open DRM standard, or it can simply abandon DRM altogether. This sounds pretty similar to what French politicians had envisioned last year, when the parliament approved a law forcing Apple to open up. Apple's reaction was that it would probably just stop selling music in France, and eventually the law was rendered relatively toothless. It's not yet clear what the final outcome of this ruling will be, but once again, this provides Apple and the record labels with an opportunity to experiment with DRM-free sales and see how it effects their businesses. There's no upside of DRM for consumers, despite what industry groups say, so you'd be hard pressed to argue that its inclusion helps sales in any way. With signs emerging that some of the labels are rethinking DRM, this decision in Norway could provide the impetus for them to abandon DRM there, and hopefully realize they've got more to gain by doing so than they have to lose by hanging on to it.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Sanguine Dream, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 10:34am

    The longest journey begins...

    Good idea just not big enough scale.

    France tried to do something and it didnt work out. Norway appears to be taking a stab at it this time. I really don't think this will force Apple into any postion it doesn't want to be in but I think this could be a step in the direction of getting rid of DRM.

    One big reason DRM hasn't been done away with is that there hasn't been a large enough body of people to stand up to the music industry. It's gonna take a lot more than the government of a moderately sized nation to force a change. Now if the people and governments of France, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, Gernamy, Spain, and vast majority of the EU took a stand then something may happen. But until a large scale anti-DRM effort is mustered then big business will just continue to try buying the law.

     

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  2.  
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    Maxillarypun, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 10:51am

    DRM...

    I actually haven't had any problems playing songs purchased from iTunes to play on other mp3 players. There's an option to change the AAC (Mpeg4) file to a normal mp3 file, which can be put on just about anything, including my phone.

     

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  3.  
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    Bubba, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 11:15am

    You must have that Gen-10 iPod from the future because there is nowhere in my current version of iTunes that allows you to convert a song to mp3.

     

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  4.  
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    zcat, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 11:22am

    Perhaps he's talking about the "burn a CD and then rip it again" option?

     

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  5.  
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    DarKnight, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 11:25am

    yeah me too

    I don't copy anything in AAC. Itunes gives you an option to make them MP3. and your music library folder will then be full of MP3s that you can transfer at will.
    7.0 is my version. i believe it's there on the latest one.
    Shrug

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 11:38am

    wrong

    Music purchased from iTMS is delivered in protected AAC format (ie with the DRM attached). This is wholly different from the format in which the user chooses to rip music, and these protected files _cannot_ be converted to MP3 within iTunes.

     

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  7.  
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    tf, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 11:49am

    Anyone else think it's strange that the Norwegian consumer group complains to the Ombudsman in January of '06, then the Ombudsman officially pushes Apple in June, Apple responds in September, and now the consumer group again issues the same complaint in January '07 with a following statement from the Ombudsman giving Apple until September '07 to respond again?

    (i.e., anyone think the Ombudsman claims are a bit more toothless than he purports?)

    Also, back in June he claimed that other companies were doing the same and that he wasn't targeting Apple, that other complaints against other companies would follow?

    Where are they? In 6 months all we get is the SAME complaint against Apple ONLY!

    The addition of France and Germany to the Norwegian consumer groups complaint is toothless. Unlike in Norway where there is allegedly some connection between the Ombudsman and the judicial system, these are just independent consumer groups. In fact, the French group already initiated an antitrust claim early last year which has gone nowhere. I would imagine an actual law suit would have more weight than adding your name to a complaint. (i.e. The French group already played a stronger card a year ago. The result: no progress in their case and a toothless law that hasn't changed France.)

     

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  8.  
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    Joe, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 11:51am

    ... but you can't do that with songs purchased from iTunes ... which is what they were talking about I think. The only way to convert an iTunes song to mp3 is to burn-to-cd - the re-rip it to mp3 ... afaik

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 12:11pm

    Re:

    It's just "toothless", like the word?

     

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  10.  
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    UniBoy, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 12:23pm

    Apple and DRM

    If the music industry and recording labels drop DRM, then Apple will almost certainly follow. As you say, DRM offers no benefit to consumers, and I think Apple recognizes that better than Microsoft, Sony, and others. That is the reason that FairPlay, while still undesirable, is at least more fair than those other DRM schemes.

    My point is, this is not Apple's decision. It is up to the record labels. Apple can not (yet?) act unilaterally to rid the world of DRM. Even if it is ultimately in everyone's best interest.

    Apple will probably just stop selling iTunes content in Norway. People there can still have their iPods, right? And Apple makes no money off of iTunes downloads anyway. So who loses in this? Only the recording industry and the Norwegian consumer who wanted to use iTunes, I think.

     

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  11.  
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    Xiera, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 12:35pm

    I'm shocked that the WTO has not done anything with this yet. While I personally believe that Apple should be able to license its products in whatever way it wishes (knowing that consumers might go elsewhere because of the restrictions), this is clearly a case where they are limiting markets. Free trade would dictate that a consumer who uses iTunes to buy music should be able to use it on whatever device they wish. By only allowing iTunes music to be played on an iPod, they are essentially monopolising the mp3 player market (and the fact that products are designed for iPods and not other mp3 players surely does not help).

    Personally, I think the WTO should be dissolved so that the markets can take care of themselves: allow the consumers to make the decisions. Most people think that some law-making body should intervene in these scenarios and I agree that if such a body exists (it does), it should actually do -something-.

    In the meantime, the only way to really send the message to Apple is to get enough people dumping iTunes and looking for alternative music sources. A country the size of Norway may not be able to accomplish this (I'm rather surprised that France cannot make a dent), but an international effort would likely be more successful.

     

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  12.  
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    Joe, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 12:39pm

    Re: iTunes

    edit, preferences, advanced, burn, and click on mp3.

     

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  13.  
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    tf, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 12:55pm

    "Free trade would dictate that a consumer who uses iTunes to buy music should be able to use it on whatever device they wish."

    The problem is: no solution creates this idealized scenario. PFS is still only supported on some devices, even if it is widely licensed, and it does not work on Macs and Linux at all. Real is open to licensing, but they've had very little success. Zune is entirely restricted in the same way as the Apple model.

    Forcing any (and so far Norway and others are focusing on Apple despite their claims to the contrary) and all of these DRM providers to openly license their DRM would only create "some" compatibility while at the same time introducing some technological degradation (PFS has been admitted by Microsoft to be problematic)... So the result would be GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION to get only partial improvement (would all stores and all device manufacturers be FORCED to license all DRMs?) which actually impinges FAIR TRADE to benefit FAIR USE (I don't know why fair use of media content is getting confused with Fair Trade) marginally and potentially hold back the development of the market when alternatives already exist (CDs, eMusic, allofmp3) and transferability is possible (via burning CDs).

     

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  14.  
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    UniBoy, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:02pm

    I'm suing Napster, Yahoo, and Microsoft!

    Try as I have, I cannot get the songs I bought from these other music stores to play on my beloved iPod! What kind of a backwardsassmonopolisticanticonsumerregime are they trying to put over on us here! I should be able to play the music I bought on ANY MP3 player!

     

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  15.  
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    Michael Long, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:07pm

    More likely...

    A more likely scenario, and one which the rumor sites seem to be collaborating, is that Apple will license FairPlay. This solves the Norwegian problem and several others elsewhere, would provide a revenue stream from other media players, allows more customers the opportunity to buy music from iTMS, and positions FairPlay, and not PlaysForSure, as the dominate technology in the marketplace.

    While such a move might cannibalise some iPod sales, many a company has realized that it's better to cannibalise your own sales than let some other company do it.

    And since dropping DRM altogether is not Apple's choice to make, this is really their only viable option.

     

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  16.  
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    tf, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:14pm

    No, Michael, that's a very unlikely scenario. The rumor you are citing is only that bridges and other devices could play back FairPlay tracks via the dock from the iPod, not that other stores or devices could license it. And this is only a rumor.

    They have plenty of options. There is little reason to believe this could actually result in judicial or legislative interference yet. And if that does occur, Apple can simply pull out.

     

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  17.  
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    UniBoy, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:18pm

    Not likely...

    FairPlay is managed in the iTunes application, not in the iPod. In order to "License FairPlay", Apple would actually need to open up iTunes syncing so that other companies could make players that could sync your iTunes music library. So, the "standard" would become iTunes+iTMS+FairPlay, as opposed to FairPlay only.

    That would be exceedingly nice for Apple. But I am not sure how many of their competitors would want to assist Apple with such an enterprise. This just so they might sell a few more MP3 players.

    It does not make sense for Apple to license FairPlay because nobody would want it and it would not fix the real problem - other players cannot sync with iTunes.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Michael Long, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:38pm

    Re: More likely.

    As I said, there are many reasons why it's a good idea, and very little downside. First and foremost, it kills the vendor "lock-in" argument that's arisen in Norway and elsewhere.

    Second, while it has the potential to cannibalise pod sales, it's unlikely to do so, as those likely to buy ipods will still buy ipods. Look at how HP failed to sell their own Apple-licensed pods. While I have no doubt that it may allow some media players to enroach upon Apple's territory, they already do so, and this way allows Apple to make a profit (smaller to be sure, but still a profit) in the process.

    In short, FairPlay could become (for better or worse) the "Windows" of the media player market.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Michael Long, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:43pm

    Re: More likely.

    "It does not make sense for Apple to license FairPlay because nobody would want it."

    So? It solves the Norwegian problem, as one of the solutions is simply that they "allow" it to be licensed. The fact that no one takes them up on it isn't Apple's fault...

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    tf, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 1:58pm

    "First and foremost, it kills the vendor "lock-in" argument that's arisen in Norway and elsewhere. "

    So? Why would Apple care about someone else's "problem"?

    "Second, while it has the potential to cannibalise pod sales, it's unlikely to do so, as those likely to buy ipods will still buy ipods."

    That's your claim. The simple fact is: it can't help.

    "In short, FairPlay could become (for better or worse) the "Windows" of the media player market."

    It is anyways without the flaws of PFS.

     

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  21.  
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    LJSeinfeld, Jan 24th, 2007 @ 7:51pm

    Re: Clueless

    erm... Saying that only iTunes music will play on an iPod is a total misstatement of fact. An iPod will play any unprotected MP3 that you put on it (as well as a few other file formats).

    Apple created the ITMS to augment iPod sales. Not the other way around.

     

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  22.  
    icon
    rahrens (profile), Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:04am

    backwards

    LJSeinfeld;

    You've got it backwards, they're saying that music bought from the ITS can't be played on other music players, which, strictly speaking, is true. One has to burn them onto a Cd and re-rip them back as mp3's to do that.

    France tried it by passing a law, this won't work any better.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 8:24pm

    Re: backwards

    PodPlayer will play tunes off of an iPod, so there is a possiblity that users could mod the code so that it rips the songs to MP3. alternlatively, burn the songs to an RW as MP3, then copy back. THird option is to get the music from elsewhere.

     

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