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PlayFair and the iPod lock-in

The PlayFair software, which strips out the FairPlay DRM from songs bought from the iTunes Music Store, has been kicked off its server again, after being evicted from SourceForge earlier this month. Leander Kahney thinks this is a good thing – and points at at post by  in which Wincent pops a few of the bubbles blown around PlayFair by its advocates.

Except that some of the points are somewhat at odds with what most people would reasonably think they’re getting from iTunes Music Store, given the public pronouncements of Steve Jobs. For example, in response to the idea that you own the music and can play it whevever you want, Wincent says:

“You didn’t buy it. You don’t own it. You entered into a license agreement with Apple permitting you to download the music file and use it under the terms dictated by the license and enforced by the FairPlay DRM technology. You yourself agreed to these terms. You yourself agreed that you wouldn’t try to break the DRM. If you don’t like the terms, then do your online music shopping elsewhere.”

Well, that’s not what Jobs says. As he put it in an interview with Rolling Stone:

“We said: These [music subscription] services that are out there now are going to fail. Music Net’s gonna fail, Press Play’s gonna fail. Here’s why: People don’t want to buy their music as a subscription. They bought 45’s; then they bought LP’s; then they bought cassettes; then they bought 8-tracks; then they bought CD’s. They’re going to want to buy downloads. People want to own their music. You don’t want to rent your music — and then, one day, if you stop paying, all your music goes away.”

It’s a point Jobs made again in a press conference to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the iTunes Music Store: “People want to own their music, not rent it.”

Now that would lead me – and any other consumer – to think that you own the music you buy from the iTunes Store, and that means you have the same fair use rights as you have with a CD or a vinyl LP. What’s worth noting about PlayFair – renamed Hymn and still available here if you want it – is that while it strips out the DRM, it leaves the Apple ID associated with your iTunes account in the file: if you’re stupid enough to put it on a peer-to-peer service, Apple could simply prosecute you. As the author of the software puts it:

I don’t believe the majority of the people who use my program will use it so that they can share their files on Kazaa, especially since their apple ID is embedded in the files. Anyway, in order to use my program, you had to pay for music on the iTunes Music Store to begin with.

Amen to that. So here we have Apple attempting to suppress a tool which allows people who’ve bought music from the iTunes store to use the music on any platform, while fingerprinting each file so it could be traced to them, making it effectively useless for piracy. Why would Apple do that? After all, you’re still buying the music.

One possible reason is that Apple is trying to keep on the good side of the RIAA. But, again, given that Hymn makes it easy for the RIAA to trace pirates, that reason doesn’t really hold water. There’s always the possibility that someone would take the extra step and work out how to strip out the ID tag, but then surely it should be the program that does the stripping, rather than Hymn, that Apple goes after.

The answer becomes obvious if you consider the model of business that Apple is using in its music business. Apple makes little to no money on selling music from the iTunes Store: it’s not a loss-maker, but neither is it a cash cow. Where Apple makes its money is from the iPod – and the iPod is the only device you can play music bought at the iTunes Store on. Hymn/PlayFair removes that link between iPod and iTMS, making it possible to buy music on the store while using it on a competing player. That lack of tie-in is what makes Hymn a threat to Apple.

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  • Zato

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  • http://www.musicvoyager.com ruv

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