Friday, May 22, 2009

"This is Rumor Control. Here are the facts."*

In response to my most recent posting, "Shivan" writes,
yadda yadda
look at the middleware, between "Database" and "Multimedia Framework".
There, you got it, I'm out.
What Shivan is slyly referring to here is the box labeled "DRM Framework", and he's evidently expressing his displeasure that such a thing might be included as part of a cell phone platform. I initially began to respond in a comment, but ultimately decided that this deserved a posting all of its own.

Shivan is well within his rights to "opt out" of anything which includes DRM in it, but I'm afraid it's likely to limit his activities a little. The fact is that—to the very best of my knowledge, anyway—there isn't a mobile network operator on the planet which doesn't mandate the inclusion of at least some form of DRM in every single phone it provides. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a phone which doesn't include some form of DRM, "OMA Type 1" at the very least. And as much as I hate to be the one to tell you this, Android has DRM. Qtopia has DRM.

So Shivan is (unless he gets, perhaps, an OpenMoko phone and a long extension cord) going to have to do without a cell phone. He's likewise going to have to do without any MP3 player that supports protected AAC, WMA, and other DRM-enabled media. I'm pretty sure that excludes the bulk of the devices out there, so he's going to have to probably listen to his music (FLAC encoded? Better get a big hard disk, too...) on his laptop (and another extension cord, maybe).

(Oh, and for sure don't ever watch any DVDs!)

One nice thing about having been around as long as I have is that I'm a pragmatist. Another nice thing about it is that I understand very well that half a loaf is better than none, and ninety-nine one-hundredths of a loaf is even better than that.

It's not a perfect world, Shivan. I don't like DRM, so I don't use it—most of my music was ripped (to MP3s, sorry, even with a 160GB iPod, I've got a lot of music) from my CD collection and the rest was purchased as downloads (without DRM) from Amazon. With one exception, which I did as an experiment, I've never bought protected media from the iTunes Store, or much of anything else. So DRM never impacts me. But I'm realistic enough to understand that it's going to be there, in at least some metaphysical sense, for the foreseeable future, and I get on with life.

When the MNOs decide there's no need for DRM, cell phone platforms will stop including it. That'll be fine by me. In the meantime, I don't see that I'm improving my life by refusing to use a cell phone until they do. Your Mileage May Vary. Sorry For The Incovenience.

* Brian Glover as "Harold Andrews" in Alien3


Karl Lattimer said...

Religion huh? Gotta love that "I blindly believe the truth" attitude :/

I remember bringing this exact issue up with you over a year ago now, your attitude was the same then as it is now. To be honest I agree with you, as long as it doesn't affect me then I'm fine with it.

The problem here as you've rightly pointed out is ignorance. Obviously there's also some ignorance at the top of the ivory towers that choose to use drm, but those people will one day be educated one way or another.

Shivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shivan said...

w00t, a blog comment from my part produces a blog post, that's great. (event though the capital S isn't necessary, really, it's just an humble "shivan" from Richard Garrriot's Magic (please, do sue me for unfair use).

I always pictured me as a Linusian, aka "open source will fuck proprietary up from the ass to the throat because it can only be be better. (vs RMSian)
But, as years pass by, I can on realize the aweful truth: I'm attracted to freedom. I know, it's unnatural and I should be ashamed. But f**k everything else, I don't like the DRM and the "If you're okay, you have nothing to fear" attitude. And the only fact that there is a DRM Framework is sufficient to pull me away from the LiMo platform. I'm sorry I'm that booleanic, but I don't like certain words, and DRM is exactyly one of them.

-- edited because of a stupid typo

Matthew W. S. Bell said...

Pesky, pesky principles, eh.

Lefty said...

Well, not my principles, honestly.

Fact is, I couldn't function, on a professional level, without a cell phone. I enjoy the convenience of having three months worth of non-stop music, which I've collected over several decades, on a device the size of a deck of cards.

I'm willing to do that because I understand how (and when) DRM works, and I know how to not find myself beholden to it. The position you're staking out here is roghly akin to being unwilling to buy a car that has a cigarette lighter because you're against smoking.

And, for my part, I'm quite attracted to freedom, I think very highly of it. However, unlike some, I recognize that this also entails the freedom to weigh the relative merits of one choice versus another without being simply reactionary about it. Of course, that entails actually thinking about things.

So, Shivan (or "shivan", if you insist)—and Matthew as well—do I correctly assume that "principles" and "love of freedom" mean that you don't use a cell phone, any sort of portable media device, DVD player, etc...? If you don't, fine, at least you're being consistent. If you do, however, that seems a tad hypocritical...

Anonymous said...

The freedom argument is important but at the end of the day not that relevant - the bottom line is: DRM is snake oil.

Platform vendors would be better served by educating their customers rather than waiting for "when the MNOs decide there's no need for DRM".

Sure, you may make a couple of extra bucks in the short term by playing along, but by doing that you are increasing your costs and wasting development resources that could be better used in other areas.

Lefty said...

My challenge goes out to the latest commenter as well: do you use a cell phone? A portable MP3 player? A DVD player? So far, there's been a resounding silence from the advocates of freedom on this. One has to wonder.

As Jack Parsons observed (prior to getting blown to smithereens), "Freedom is a two-edged sword." If you want the freedom to make choices, you have to allow others the freedom to make choices that you wouldn't. Assuming that they make those choices because they're not as smart, or enlightened, or "freedom-loving" as you are is simple arrogance.

If an author, for whatever reasons, decides that he wants to sell his work only to people willing to sign a contract that they will neither show his work to, nor share it with, anyone else, is he within his rights to do so? Certainly. Would I buy such a work? Unlikely, but that's not his worry, presumably. I get to choose.

If artists who create songs or ringtones (which are creative works, and protected by the same copyright laws which make the GPL possible) decide that they don't want their works to be freely distributable, are they within their rights to do so? Again, certainly. Would I buy a ringtone like that (if I were in the market for ringtones at all)...? Again, probably not. Again, I get to choose.

Since the DRM which is already in my phone (and yours), and which has been there about as long as I've had a cell phone, never has any media to protect, how exactly is it reducing my freedom...?

And by the way, your argument is specious on several scores: just for starts, what's being objected to is a DRM Framework. It does not itself, in fact, contain any DRM, just a plug-in architecture. It's up to device manufacturers and MNOs to decide what they want to do with it.

Second, it's not simply a matter of "educating customers". There are standards organizations (e.g. OMA) which evidently need to be "educated" as well. On a broader front (around things like potential GPLv3 issues on mobile devices) there are legislatures that need to be "educated".

Never go with a simple solution to a complex problem: you're just kidding yourself. I'm a believer in incremental improvement.

Warbo said...

People who refuse to touch DRM aren't restricting what they can and can't do at all. The only restrictions being made are by those implementing the DRM, which is the whole point of it. My choice to use, Amarok over iTunes doesn't restrict the music I can play, Apple's choice to restrict those without iTunes is what restricts me. Until Apple fix this bug, like DVD Jon fixed a similar bug for DVDs, then I'll carry on as I am with Amarok and my OpenMoko. And nothing of value was lost.

PS: There was no reason to feign ignorance of Vorbis, it just detracts from your argument.

Lefty said...

"People who refuse to touch DRM aren't restricting what they can and can't do at all."

No? If you "refuse to touch DRM", then you're going to have to refuse to touch a cell phone. How's that not restricting what you can and can't do?

I'm well aware of Vorbis. I'm also aware that vanishingly few devices support it and that the file size is larger than a comparable MP3.

Still waiting to hear about DRM-free portable media players (and a laptop running Amorak doesn't count...)

(You'd possibly have a better point if the OpenMoko device was actually usable as a phone. In my experience, that's never been the case. Neither the Neo 1973 nor the FreeRunner could be remotely considered to be a "consumer device", by any stretch of the imagination...)

Anonymous said...

Vorbis will give you smaller file sizes than even lame mp3 for the same quality. This has been true for a very long time, at least 5 years.

If you want to make shocking, heretical statements to annoy free software "zealots" you could try "Vorbis is comparable quality to AAC at standard bitrates and requires you to use a non-standard fork to compare with AAC+ at bitrates lower than 64kps". Less snappy, more factual.

Lefty said...

Could well be true, it's probalby been five years since I fooled around with Vorbis.

Of course, there's the other problem: what does one then play these files on? I'm not aware of any Vorbis-capable portable device with a storage capacity approaching 100GB, much less the 160GB I have (and use all but 6-8GB of) today.

Anonymous said...

And why, exactly, do you need to let a network operator tell you what they want in a phone? Since when do you need a network operator's permission to stick a SIM card in any phone you want?

Anonymous said...

What can you play Vorbis on?

Well most annoyingly for you as a LiMo proponent, you can play them on Android, which gives them a nice checkbox for the "zealots". Vorbis ringtones, even.

But it's a pretty big jump from "nothing" to play Vorbis on to "nothing with a hard-drive and 100GB+ capacity". That's like a niche cubed. Clearly you've quickly caught up on the last five years and realised that Vorbis is actually widely supported on the flash players that the kids are buying these days.

Of course it's not on the iPod (without third party firmware), which basically dominates the PMP (Portable Media Players aka iPods) industry so you could spin it as being on only a minority of units bought. However, and without a thorough survey, I'd venture to say it's available on a majority of the devices offered for sale e.g. Sandisk's iPod competitors which I think are (a very distant) second place in marketshare.

But if you actually want an ultra-high capacity hard-drive based Vorbis portable, try the Archos 5 (250GB) or Archos 7 (320GB).

Lefty said...

I actually investigted the Archos as a substitute for an iPod. No go. Wanna know why?

In spite of the fact that it runs Qtopia, it's got absolutely no support for Unicode, and there's no way to get any, as I determined after a long conversation with their tech support folks. And since I've got a lot of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Russian music, that makes it a no go. It actually saves the file names correctly, it simply displays them as gibberish.

Sorry for being a "niche", but those are my requirements. The 14-year-olds may be buying flash-based players, but I'd need several dozen of them.

Lefty said...

(And why is it that the most "freedom-loving" folks are the most inclined to post anonymously? What are you afraid of?)

Lefty said...

Oh, and lest we forget--since we seem to have gotten dragged off on a complete tangent--every single one of those flash-based, Vorbis-capable MP3 players supports DRM!So, none of you freedom-lovers can touch them. So, we're back at the starting point. How is this not "restricting what you can do"?

Anonymous said...

Well I'm not actually that hardline when it comes to "freedom" since I'm typing this on a MacBook and use an iPhone. I just thought Vorbis seemed to be getting unfairly maligned when it got caught in the crossfire of this DRM discussion.

On the topic of DRM Apple got kudos for me for implementing DRM required by music labels while at the same time having their CEO publically state that they knew that it wouldn't work, even in theory and had been telling the labels that even before they had them signed up.

As for anonymity I would have signed these as "dave" but the Blogger interface confused me (as it is different depending on how each blog has chosen to accept comments)

-- dave

Lefty said...

"...why, exactly, do you need to let a network operator tell you what they want in a phone? Since when do you need a network operator's permission to stick a SIM card in any phone you want?"

Oh, you don't. The question is which DRM-free phone will you stick that SIM in? With the (possible) exception of an OpenMoko phone (and only one running the original OpenMoko distribution, not running Android or Qtopia), I don't think there is one.

See, the phone manufacturers' biggest customers, by a long stretch, are the MNOs. So the network operators tell the phone manufacturers what they (at least believe) they want in a phone. And the phone manufacturers put those things in the phones they make, or the network operators don't buy any of them.

Anonymous said...

> My challenge goes out to the latest commenter as well:

My argument wasn't "DRM bad", but "DRM doesn't work".

Here goes anyway:

> do you use a cell phone?

Technically yes, although only as a modem with a DATA-only SIM. I don't think it has music-playing capabilities but I haven't looked too closely. I also own a Neo1973 but saying I "use" it would probably be going too far.

> A portable MP3 player?

Sort of, a maemo tablet with several GBs of Ogg Vorbis. It can also play a bunch of other formats including MP3, but doesn't have any support for DRM AFAIK.

> A DVD player?

Yes. It's region-free. Just one of many many examples of DRM not working.

BTW, I actually agree with you, DRM support wouldn't stop me from buying a device other things being equal.

> There are standards organizations (e.g. OMA) which evidently need to be "educated" as well.

"Education" is the wrong word, considering those organisations include many DRM vendors (along with their vested interests) in their membership rosters.

In the meantime OS vendors, device manufacturers and content resellers are all wasting resources supporting the snake oil merchants' business models. It's certainly not the artists or labels who benefit.