Under The Microscope

Of Apple, The Fabled Music Service, And DRM

…as I write this, much of the world is on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear all about Apple’s purported new music service. And we’re worried about getting caught in the ensuing crossfire. Apple’s about to release a new music service. The Wall Street journal has reported on it, along with Billboard, Financial Times, and a myriad of other reputable news sources. Or maybe they won’t. We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let me bring you in on a little secret – Audio Hijack’s codename was iPirate. A few clever people have noticed the prefix on our Audio Hijack codes of IPRT was phonetically close to I Pirate, and now the cat is out of the bag. To be perfectly clear, this codename was something of a sardonic tip-of-the-hat to the first reactions some people had to the idea of the software. Audio Hijack and Audio Hijack Pro were never intended to help users grab individual songs for which they didn’t have the rights. They were never intended to let users save individual songs for permanent listening, from places like net streams and band websites. All in all, the Audio Hijack line makes really lousy pirating tools. There are several MP3 rippers out there that do grab mp3 content allowing users to record MP3 streams and save the files, often breaking the files by song. In comparison to this, our products stink – we can’t split songs, because we get raw audio data. MP3 rippers are splitting based on ID3 tags, and by the time the audio gets to us, that data is gone. And when compared with p2p file sharing services like Gnutella, Kazaa, and Direct Connect, we look downright pathetic. The Audio Hijack line simply isn’t designed to help you inflate your MP3 collection, legally or otherwise.

The AH line does allows users to do two very specific things with audio content, both of which have been upheld in previous court cases. First, with our Timers, both products act just like a VCR, allowing users to “time shift” the content – record it now and listen to it later. Second, by allowing the user to convert audio from one format into raw AIFF (and then into MP3, in the case of Audio Hijack Pro), we’ve enabled digital space-shifting.

So we’re time-shifting and space-shifting, all of which enables you, the user, to take your audio with you however you like, by breaking it down to universal formats like AIFF and MP3. What’s the problem? Hopefully, there isn’t one. However, as I write this much of the world is on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear all about Apple’s purported new music service. And we’re worried about getting caught in the ensuing crossfire. I while back I wrote up a post on our forum which gathered up some of the thoughts I was having at the time. Apple had recently removed us from their downloads section (costing us many hits), without provocation or explanation. Rumors were beginning to fly about their forthcoming music service. And most importantly, patents had been filed by Apple related to DRM and Internet delivered content.

At the time, my theory seemed a bit far-fetched. Now, if things play out as expected tomorrow, it may have been far more prophetic than even I realized. And that could be bad news for Rogue Amoeba. Like I’ve said, Audio Hijack and Audio Hijack Pro were never designed for pirating. But if Apple’s music service relies solely on an unlocking mechanism to play the audio, then we’ve suddenly got a couple very valuable tools for users of this service. Users can unlock the content once, hijack and record it, and then play it in any mp3 player, and on any hardware. That’s excellent, and perfectly fair, since users will be paying for the content.

The problem arises when users unlock the content and spread it to the world. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting a fledgling music service, especially not from my favorite company. And if Apple is relying on a faulty system, no matter how short sighted it may be, I’ll be very torn in my feelings. I do want AH and AH Pro to make people’s lives better. We’ve been doing that for months now, and we’ve received all manner of compliments. It’s a great reason to start work in the morning. But I DON’T want the AH line to turn into pirating tools and I don’t want to hurt a new music service by allowing users to buy files once and share them forever.

So if this music service arrives, and if it’s protected in a way that Audio Hijack and Audio Hijack Pro can circumvent, I can only ask the world to tread gently. Be respectful of the artists, of Apple, and of the law. Use our Audio Hijack products to make your lives easier, use them to make your lives better, but don’t use them as part of a method to steal music. That’s not what it’s all about.

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