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Roughly Drafted
Daniel Eran

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Image Inside iTunes: Part V
D.R.M. or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Of course, the QuickTime architecture isn't needed to simply listen to music. Where QuickTime again becomes a key technology is in the area of Digital Rights Management. DRM aims to control digital media so it can only be used in ways the creator wants. Content creators, and particularly their distributors and marketers, have a history of severe paranoia, always worried that content users are not paying them as much as they could be.

The movie industry fought viciously against the introduction of the VCR, fearing they would lose profits if consumers could watch programming without commercials, or copy films for playback by an audience other than the one intended. The introduction of Digital Audio Tape was so feared by music labels that they insisted on draconian copy protection systems being legislated into the standard, which jacked up the price and delayed DAT until it was largely irrelevant. With the invention of recordable optical disc technologies, labels are again looking for a way to distribute content locked down to a single use.

Microsoft quickly acted to design an architecture of severely restricted media use. Through an initiative called Windows Media, the company licensed designs for playback devices that use a special file format locked down by the media creator. An array of security levels provide for different levels of paranoia, but also contribute to confusion for users.

Before Windows Media, CD buyers knew they could play the CD in any CD player, and rip tracks from the CD to copy for use with digital mp3 players. With Windows Media, a purchased track might only work on a computer or a special player, may or may not be able to be recorded to CD, and if fees aren't paid for a subscription, all the content they think they own can suddenly expire. Additionally, if a purchased track fails in an attempt by a user to record it to CD, Windows Media might assume the task was complete and expire the 'right' to try burning it again.

Windows Media is a hit with distributors and manufacturers, but consumers have failed to show much support for the services that use it. If consumers had no other choice, Windows Media might eventually catch on. To that end, Microsoft hopes to make common standards like mp3 go away, replaced with the Windows Media format it owns.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, Apple, with iTunes for Windows, has introduced a far more consumer friendly system of DRM that allows users consistent and reasonable rights to use what they purchase, and provides reasonable protections for media creators and distributors.

Apple's DRM is built into QuickTime. Suddenly, protected tracks bought through iTMS can play back on QuickTime anywhere, from Macs to PCs to Apple's own iPod. Tracks can also be burned to CD to play anywhere CDs play. Microsoft countered the iTunes success by complaining that Apple's system fails to support Windows Media, and warned that would limit its appeal to consumers who want the right to buy Microsoft technology. Windows users responded by downloading iTunes and installing QuickTime.

Apple has established itself as the destination for purchased music on the Internet, defined the standard for reasonableness in protected media, developed and built the most desirable music player in the industry, and offered consumers an alternative to Windows Media. And this week, Apple deployed to millions of Windows users, voluntarily, the latest version of their QuickTime software, further extending their reach in providing cross platform media creation and playback. Hell certainly has frozen over.
Watch 'Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'
If you haven't seen Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of Cold War paranoia satire, you might want to get it from Amazon on my affiliate account. It's a classic, and I get a buck or two. Alluded to in the Simpsons at least as often as 2001: a Space Odyssey. My favorite line: "You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!"

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