Mark Twain

Deep in Tesla’s labs, Mark Twain discovers the awesome, destructive force of Windows Sound Recorder. Be afeared, intellectual property owners!)

Act now, fellow musicians — before Sound Recorder destroys music!

It’s amazing how complete and total crazies can suddenly wind up with the backing of organizations powerful enough to dictate the law. Witness the strange story of the “stream-ripping” scare, and how it somehow led to a push for mandatory, proprietary DRM on all Internet radio.

Gasp as the experience of bringing back Mark Twain’s ghost somehow inspires a company you’ve never heard of to build their own DRM for streams!

Recoil in horror at the evil pirating capabilities of Windows Vista and its Sound Recorder, as Microsoft earns billions — billions! — of dollars by encouraging people to steal music from radio streams!

Sigh with satisfaction at the realization that we can put a stop to these unprotected broadcasts of music forever, saving music itself in the process!

What? None of this sounds familiar? Bizarre, absurd, even illogical and out of touch with any recognizable reality, you say? You’re right, but alas …read on.

(See previous: Internet Radio Wins Temporary Delay, Possible Minimum Rate Break. You knew it wasn’t really going to be that easy, right? Apparently some of you missed my sense of irony. I was on vacation, so I wasn’t trying as hard to make my sarcasm apparent.)

Our story begins at the end of April, when a company no one had ever heard of (Media Rights Technologies) suddenly issued a press release claiming Congress had to act now to stop the scourge of “stream ripping” — recording Internet radio streams. The bad news: the idiotic ideas inside have now become negotiating demands from the record industry. Among the peculiar talking points at the time:

  1. Apparently choosing to bury the lead, the press release started out with a historical non sequitur about how the company was “the first to create virtual interactive exhibitions like The Private Life of Mark Twain where you could actually see and hear Mark Twain’s 1835 Martin guitar playing Old Susannah for Noah Adams on NPR’s All Things Considered.” Um … good for .. them?
  2. Slapped with an equally bizarre lawsuit by the RIAA, the company went on to — blame the RIAA for frivolous cease-and-desist orders? Start a rumble with Mark Twain’s … uh … management and legal team? Nope. They concluded they should blame Microsoft and develop their own, special DRM technologies, because Windows Media Player didn’t have enough DRM on its own. (In fairness, this was an early version of WMP.)
  3. Then, the mysterious MRT claims the record industry is losing US$50 billion on the “stream ripping industry.” (The … what now? And the record industry would have been selling nearly a billion CDs that it couldn’t because of this industry?)
  4. Finally, the real evil: Microsoft’s Windows Vista is a success because of evil stream-ripping capabilities Why, just look — while the record industry sales were slumping, Vista sales were increasing! That has to be connected!
  5. There’s only one solution! Quick! Pay MRT for stream-ripping protection, using their specialized streaming DRM! No, wait — force Congress to force webcasters to use MRT’s DRM!

Yes, you heard that right. The real danger to the music industry: unprotected streaming content in Real, Adobe, Microsoft, and Apple formats (in other words, everything) that must immediately be replaced with MRT’s proprietary solution. Just how real is this danger? Why look no further than an evil piece of software, built for pirating music. It’s called (cue the scary piano music) Windows SOUND RECORDER. Yes, you read that right:

Microsoft has even built into the Vista OS a native ripper, called Sound Recorder, which will deaggregate performance-based streams of unlimited duration and convert them into unprotected WMA downloads, easily uploaded onto Zune players. This year, Microsoft’s Q1 profit surged 65 percent to $4.93 billion, boosted by sales of Vista, while the Recording Industry’s profits have plummeted.

Let’s translate: deaggregate performance based streams? Convert them into unprotected WMA downloads? Yes, that’s right: Sound Recorder records. Sounds. Those sounds can be stored as files. You can do things with those files. And supposedly, Microsoft has just made billions of dollars off Vista thanks to the lame, crummy sound-editing application no one uses — erm, sorry, the malicious, pirate-aiding Great Satan that is Sound Recorder.

I’m glad they pointed this out, because otherwise I might have assumed that the many other features in Vista were the reason people bought the upgrade, not using Sound Recorder to illegally record songs.

Total insanity. What a relief that no one would take this idea seriously.

Scratch that: it turns out that SoundExchange’s negotiations with webcasters are now calling for protections against stream-ripping that apparently involve mandatory DRM on all streams. That explains SoundExchange’s sudden willingness to agree to caps — but they’ve pulled this issue out at the last minute, without being upfront with either Congress or webcasters, just as the new rate rules take into affect. Apparently they thought this could strong-arm webcasters into DRM they wanted all along.

And it gets worse. These “technology mandates” appear to be causing negotiations to break down between the record industry and webcasters. Read the details here (caution: this may hurt your head):
DiMA/SX negotiations falling apart once again

The “technology mandates” are a serious business. The implication by SoundExchange is that they won’t even sit at the negotiating table unless webcasters agree to put protections in place to stop stream ripping. Never mind that a miniscule fraction of listeners rip streams, let alone do it in such a way that would diminish the value of purchased songs and albums. Never mind that DRM isn’t the only way to stop ripping (see RAIN for a few suggestions).

Just how nasty is the DRM proposed by companies like MRT? Have a look at BlueBeat:

BlueBeat Software Download

A proprietary format, in a proprietary player app that’s Windows-only (in this case, ironically, built on Windows Media Player 9 — even though MRT regularly threatens Microsoft with legal action and encourages legal action against them by others). That’s obviously not good for anyone, Microsoft included. And, in fact, MRT points to the fact that even the RIAA has acknowledged they’re a likely choice of technologies to make this happen.

Scary stuff. What’s badly needed now is some mediation to bring negotiations back into line. So much music is tied up in commercial labels, this issue isn’t just going to go away. A solution really is needed. This is hardly the way to approach it.

  • http://www.keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    These things always seem to start with one person "noticing" an ordinary thing as if it were a shocking discovery. Lemme guess: some idiot had a weird emtional reaction when they saw their cousin ripping a stream. There were probably a lot of tears and hysterics at first, maybe a nightmare or two, and then finally a serious and determined resolve to Do Something About It. When somebody's been through that kind of "trauma", they find a passionate and authoritative voice, and begin to inspire other clueless people to join the cause and take action against the New Evil that everybody else already knew about for years.

  • Bill

    As you so clearly pointed out, this is ridiculous. To be honest, I had actually forgotten that Sound Recorder existed and had never thought to use it to record internet radio streams – but now I think I'll start. And to think I was using something like Sonar to record audio…

    I think the best solution is to find someone who can walk into Congress, take the floor with their laptop and show these people how stupid what their saying is. All they need is a cable and a tape recorder. Heck, they should even let some Congress members try it out. And then do it with a normal radio, and some iTunes songs, and then record people talking and play it back to them.

    I think it'll take something that obvious to get a message through. But I'm also afraid it'll only scare them more. MRT all ready created a scare, and they got support because they provided a solution to the problems that they brought up. And unfortunately, politics is all about hearing only what you want to hear.

    I recognize that the issue won't simply disappear, but its been going on since home recording became possible (I know people who have tape of radio shows from the early 90s and are now digitalizing them to put on their iPods – what should we do with these people?). I think Congress has more important things to worry about right now.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, Bill, absolutely … that's part of the absurdity of it; the ability to record radio has terrified labels since the beginning. And Congress does have more important things to do. Unfortunately, SoundExchange has managed to undermine the negotiations. And it seems the webcasters have only made things worse — it's a bit odd to me that their group isn't pointing out the sheer weirdness of something like the demand for DRM.

  • poopoo

    RIAA, are they still around? I thought that reel-to-reel killed the music industry, then cassette tapes killed them, then it was VCR's, then MP3's, then P2P, then satellite radio and now internet radio and windows sound recorder.

    DRM or radio streams. I guess that means that I will have to throw out my old DCMA violating tape recorder and upgrade to a shiny new macrovision enabled model.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    You have … a tape recorder?

    The horror!

    I'm surprised you're even willing to admit such a thing on a site full of *musicians*. I feel like you just stole money from me and everyone I love.

    ;)

  • http://sidechainmusic.com Dri

    I just wanted to let you all know that i can still access the internet, and thus CDM, from here in my bunker. It took a while to carry all our essentials way way down here, and the lock on the lead shield took a bit of fiddling to get open, but we're safe. All this crazy internet stream ripping stuff and the very death of music has scared us a lot but now we're in here, we think it will work out okay.

    It was my partner's birthday yesterday, but we took a sleeping pill each… we got worried when we went to sing "Happy Birthday" because there is that copyright restriction and the effort to think of a non-infringing and culturally embracing celebratory song was too much.

    PS, theres no pocky down here. Please send pocky.

  • AudioLemon

    (Inspired by the recently filed lawsuit against Sony for introducing

    DAT into the United States.)

    W R I T E R S S U E P E N C I L M A K E R S

    A coalition consisting of PEN, the Writers Guild of America, and other

    organizations representing writers filed a class-action suit today against

    major pencil manufacturers for copyright infringement. Defendents in the

    suit include Eberhard Faber, Riviera, Skilcraft, Cascade, Empire Pencil Co.,

    and Dixon Ticonderoga.

    The writers claim that with modern pencil technology, purchasers of books

    magazines, newspapers and other printed matter will be able to make exact

    reproductions of copyrighted material. The suit charges that royalties

    will be lost when people write out copies of books for friends.

    A spokesperson for the pencil companies wouldn't comment on the suit

    until they received a copy, but pointed out that most pencil users buy

    them for original writing, or to make copies of already purchased material

    for personal use. They hope the courts will apply the 'fair use' doctorine

    previously established in a similar case involving video cassete recorders.

    The writer's coalition wants the courts to impose a royalty charge on

    each pencil sold. If they are successful against the pencil makers, they

    say Bic, Parker Bros, and Mont Blanc could be next.

  • Machines

    @ AudioLemon:

    Brilliant.

  • http://www.andrewswihart.net Andrew Swihart

    This is hilarious, and scary, at the same time. Companies have so much power in the US, I actually wonder if they have a chance of getting their demands met through heavy lobbying and sucking up to lawmakers.

    After all, that's how most things get done in our country. We the people have little power left in controlling what our government does, just look at the Iraq War for one excellent example among many. It's being perpetuated by several very powerful companies and individuals that are making a killing with government contracts and such. I don't mean to get off on a tangent, but these days it's kind of hard not to mention the war when the conversation remotely involves our government.

    How many congressmen and women do we have that will really stand up for the wishes of the people instead of the powerful RIAA? Afterall, we aren't sponsoring their plane tickets, extravagant meals, and various other perks, like the RIAA is. And do they have ANY incentive to do their own independent research on the issue and come to their own conclusion? Sure, they could get voted out of office, but I doubt anyone would vote based on this issue, and even if they did, the next guy or gal would be just as loyal to the RIAA as one that got the boot.

    I guess things have been pretty good so far though, right? Microsoft and Apple have really been the ones jamming DRM down our throats to this point. And we still have Windows XP, mostly DRM free, at least for now.

  • NineTailedFox

    Is the word "cunts" allowed in comments?

  • David Danciu

    I think everyone prefers to have some profit, instead of no profit. So imho longer radio silence is the answer. A week, a month… Also, that would seriously upset a lot of artist and listeners, and a bigger, united crowd should win.

    But isn't it possible to bypass the record industry altogether? Every online radio should have an upload form (and a license agreement) to allow artists to upload their music. If they play it, royalties could be payed through checks or paypal or whatever.

  • http://www.daveahl.com dave ahl

    Okay we all know that ripping streams from internet radio stations is not a big problem as far as piracy/loss of income is concerned.

    We all know DRM doesnt protect from someone recording the audio output of a computer (if indeed you can't grab it internally through software.

    Peter has pointed out the "weirdness" of sound exchange demanding DRM.

    What if Soundexchange wants DRM not to protect against stream-ripping but so they can track what songs are being played? If everything is encoded and legit, Soundexchange will be able to collect fees for "public performance" (i.e. internet radio streaming etc…).

    I think a compromise can be struck… just have some sort of cataloguing or special song number for tracking embedded in the files but keep the DRM itself off the music and streams.

  • Gerry

    Are they going to ban putting a microphone in front of a speaker next???

    Imagine the horror when they find out you can record copyrighted music that way….

    Quick!! Burn down the Radio Shack!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Dave: Unfortunately, SoundExchange specifically singled out the ripping issue, whether it's realistic or not. Fear can be a powerful motivator for them, too, even if it's divorced from reality. I'm not familiar with the specifics, but my understanding is there are a number of mechanisms for tracking plays; that doesn't sound like the issue.

    Compromise is the key issue, and this is a very odd way to negotiate — publicly proclaiming what you want the terms to be, etc. It's all political, and I suspect a big part of why the whole process has broken down.

    @Dri, AudioLemon:

    rofl.

  • http://vixus.spheredev.org/blog/ Vixus

    Uh, am I right in thinking that Sound Recorder can only record 60s of sound at a time? I mean, I'm pretty sure matching up all the little 60 second fragments shouldn't be too hard for one armed with Audacity and other such frivolities. But for those of us without, what is to be done?

  • Floor500

    Remember "Payola". This is where record companies would pay radio stations to play music, hopefully as much as possible, over a free and non-DRM media. It became illegal and something people would go to jail for.

    Top 40 stations in the day would play a limited set of music often reapeating as often as every 45 minutes. Who needed to tape something then when it would be playing again ,for free, in a few minutes.

  • bliss

    Nothing for me to say. Everyone's said it all. Glad I bit my tongue. I would have been the first to post. CDM is such a cool and clean place that I didn't want to dirty it up with my foul comments. What I wrote and decided not to post was quite nasty. Good comments by all so far.

    Dri and AudioLemon, you've both made my Friday! :)

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  • http://www.paulsop.com Doktorfuture

    let's change the model so each of our desktop environments is DRM'd and we don't let content on it unless we're paid.

  • http://sidechainmusic.com Dri

    Here's a rare and lengthy rant on my opinion on the whole state of things…

    Sometimes i really wish some amongst our community, and by this i mean a representation of what i believe to be the norm of new and old media usage, could sit down with both the commercial dinosaurs and the law makers. We would start by showing them how this media is actually being made and distributed in the real world, and the new models of marketing emerging. Then we can take them into the twilight zone of… infringement. Both the Scene releases and the casual typical usage of mum and dad, little sister and whoever else might respond to the relentless marketing and how they actually "consume".

    It really strikes me as bizarre how there seems to really be a failure to understand where we all are in 2007. Im a late 20's DBA who like most of my generation grew up with computers, from C64's to the DOS era and literally, the birth of both CD's and the internet. The average person of my generation grew up through the IRC XDCC and FSERVE days and can micro-manage torrents in their sleep. Most of us have used the likes of (certain free software) to backup our retail DVD's and most of us have no qualms doing so, knowing full well from the birth of CD's how sad it is to lose something tangible due to a design flaw… a scratch put my "Everything Everything" Underworld live DVD in the bin, thus throwing away easily AUD $30. What logic driven sentient being wouldn't utilise tools to protect their assets? RIAA feel free to workshop a response on that one.

    Moving on, we know how to manipulate any file format out there, and can google how to within minutes if we dont. We YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and all the cascading worlds of the new internet medium. So when it comes down to the actual points of worry from the likes of the RIAA and the points they dare offer as tangible (yet unapproachable) points of contention and reasons for demands of change and licensing… is it not almost offensive? We are by and large the generation that has invented and developed most of these technologies and have done so unfettered by the bizarre politics which sees these employees of old media giants go to such extremes of logic. We are generally GOOD PEOPLE, who BUY COOL THINGS, though unfortunately we have logic and reasoning skills and dont play by the nudge nudge wink wink self preservation rules of say, Sony. Blackhat scandal anyone?

    I ramble a bit but i grow more and more tired of shouting my points into a void of logic against these media monsters. I straddle both sides of the argument but oddly enough, i sleep well at night even as an artist. I have been a part of a few albums that sold well, i see APRA royalties for radio and live performance play and get label cheques from time to time. I hope people dont pirate too much and hope they come to our gigs… and… they do! On the flipside i live a moderately comfortable life and enjoy buying digital music because i hate CD's (too many, too much space, pointless “artwork”, fragile medium) and like the games i buy, or movies, i think there is an affordable solution in terms of price point. Lets not even start on the environmental impact of millions of CD’s each year being made, driven and flown around the world and ultimately, as far as my own use goes, getting ripped to hdd and then thrown in a cupboard.

    I applaud the likes of Ableton in creative marketing to sell their software (one of the first DAW's i bought!) and have abandoned ALL Sonic Foundry software released since Sony bought it (another topic entirely). I, like my generation, will pay for our entertainment but at the same time, we are the products of our youth and a life of being marketed to has made us able to chew through products and entertainment like never before. Higher volume publishing is here (this thing called the World Wide Web) and with every single marketing tool saying "this is AWESOME! BUY IT", i have always been amazed at the logic of legal action over distribution reform. If I made potato soup, and heard of some kids with a cool way of pouring potato soup into each others saucepans, I’d be inclined to get that technology myself and A) see if I can take ownership of bettering it and putting a price point on it or B) find out quickly whether its time to get into making chocolate cake instead, having my own mouths to feed I’m hardly likely to enjoy riding a sinking ship. What I WOULDN’T do is send in some burly lads with truncheons to bash the kids up, and probably lose the secret of the technology at source.

    Naff analogy? Yeah, that’s my style. Still, that’s the whole post-Napster thing lingering as a good point to look back upon. How many tracks has iTunes sold to date? Can we get some historical quotes from labels that actually claimed online sales would never happen whilst people are able to get for free? Torrent communities will always exist but how profitable are the likes of Beatport (my fav!) and iTunes? Still we get yearly cooked up figures about how album sales are down, meant to leverage the arguments about pirating and DRM but viewed on a macro level as PR fodder amid the other label coverage… payola scams, law suits, petulant heavy metal drummers whinging endlessly and even in Australia the disgusting abuse of “promo only” albums by APRA staff, making wish lists for free booty.

    So now… internet streaming. Wow. A bizarre frontier to deploy the troops. I guess as per the above, with nothing but horrible public image being expressed its easy to continue down this insane path of attack without pause. Shock and Awe worked so well for the American military geniuses so why not use it in business. How effective is this for radio though? With countless means to set up and maintain and even effectively (freely) publicize a "pirate" radio station (and all within a few hours!) again i find myself asking the same question as the naptser era, as the whole digital thing full stop…

    Why are they attacking rather then embracing?

    Here’s a tip. Hold back a few lobbyist “gifts”, fire your DRM experts (we can crack whatever they come up with anyway) and use that money to hire some of my generation. Why? Lets see… realism, reality, the real world, real life.

    You know, the kind that invented Google. Or… perhaps you "Yahoo"? No? What you mean all those tv ads and product placement in movies didnt work? Hmm… i'm sure we can sue someone about that.

  • http://kief.net/ Valis

    I still think that DRM is just another card in the RIAA/Soundexchange prepared deck, and not the final play.

    I've been associated with a far number of stations over the years, between runnning my own and dj'ing on and helping to manage several others. Aside from the primary server/routers that host the main server, much of the bandwidth we used (via mirrors) was donated by various fans of the station who happened to be involved in IT on some level, either running their own server somewhere or perhaps in a higher position at a hosting company, where they have the freedom & authority to 'give away' bandwidth. This is just an example of the things that supporters of these stations have done to help the 'cause' or 'support the scene' or whatever.

    These stations would have still have been around were it not for things like this, but it difinately increased the listenerbase and stability quite a bit. Now if DRM had been a requirement, not only would we have had to deal with finding licenses for whatever server side method that required (windows media server, real server etc) but each relay would also have needed to pay the 'use tax' to handshake the format and distribute it.

    This means that aside from illegal copies of the software the cost burden would have been increased quite a bit. This is compared to a simple SAM license using Shoutcast/Oddcast/Icecast to stream and serve as relays. The main cost here is a windows hosting box and SAM, there are OSX & even Linux variants that are similarly priced or cheaper. This is easily covered out of pocket after the initial SAM purchase, and then as things scale up donations can help mitigate increased expenses for the hosting machine & bandwidth.

    Some of the larger stations are run more "officially", but imo quite a few of the shoutcast streams have similar paths of how they were started and are maintained, ie as hobbies and labors of love by fans of music and culture, rather than by someone who is looking to derive their income from it.

    This really breaks profiteering business models. With someone who is intent on monetizing their station the RIAA move to make the online music streaming business 'mature' prematurely only means that they must scale up faster than they had otherwise intended. With someone who is doing it just for the enjoyment of the music & culture it means that the 'maturing' of their platform takes it beyond where they want to go, turning it into a job.

    As parallel to the Soundexchange 'blanket' license to collect fees…I can't see allowing someone a blanket license to collect 'fees' from anyone who owns a musical instrument, under the idea that 'professional' musicians should be able to afford it, and to heck with the amateur or hobbyist.

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