February 7, 2007

Steve Jobs v. Underwear Gnomes

"Eliminating online DRM appears to us to be an overly risky move that eliminates the potential for a future digital-only distribution model free of piracy," Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson wrote in research note Wednesday.

"As easily as Mr. Jobs lectured the music industry on their DRM policies, he could have lectured the software industry (which includes Apple) for its complete unwillingness to pursue an industrywide DRM standard or make any effort to help music companies in their fight against digital piracy by working to make their media players recognize and not play pirated songs," Mitchelson wrote.
That's from an AP article on the record labels' response to Steve's call for them to stop requiring copy-protection on internet sales of music.

I told myself I was going to stay out of this, since everyone, his dog, and his dog's uncle are writing about Jobs' pseudo-blog post. Also, am I the only one who's a little jealous that Steve's first blog entry gets linked from the front page of Apple.com? Seriously, I suspect he pulled some strings there. My blog's never even gotten linked off Apple's "Hot News" page. (But, hey, I was once Google's Blogger of the Day, so I guess SOME big companies like me.)

Anywho, my point here, and I have one, is that this analyst is clearly an idiot. It's amazing, because he works for this huge bank, and you know he's making, well, bank, but he didn't even bother to read Steve's post.

Steve clearly said that every DRM scheme relies on secrets, which, eventually, someone either leaks or someone reverse-engineers. ALWAYS. There has never been a uncrackable copy-protection scheme, and, in fact, if you think you've invented one, I think some computer science professors would love to talk to you about the halting problem.

So, Doug, your first wrong assumption is this: there is no future of digital distribution that is "free of piracy." Period. If I can actually hear music, with my two ears, then I can copy it. You think going to analog and back is going to discourage pirates? Have you seen the handicam versions of Hollywood movies for sale in China, before they are released here? Also, who is this "us" that thinks the move is overly risky? Do you have a frog in your pocket, as well? (His name better not be Sir Jumpy.)

Ok, but that was just your first sentence, how about your second... oh, wait, you're wrong again. Twice. First, you say Apple should work with the industry to make a single standard, but Steve clearly said he'd be willing to license FairPlay to others, but he can't because of the music industry's terms with Apple that require prompt patching, and because the secrets that make DRM work at all would be broken and/or leaked all more quickly.

Seriously, Doug, you gotta use your noggin a bit. I want you to re-imagine your statement like this: "I think all banks should standardize the master combinations on their vaults, because that would make us all safer." Abitchanalystsezwhat?

But one dumb thing per sentence isn't enough for you, is it? Sure, those analysts who work for Credit Suisse may settle for less, but you're working for a German bank, dammit! So, go ahead, throw in some good old underwear-gnome-style magic, while you're on a roll: Apple should "help music companies in their fight against digital piracy by working to make their media players recognize and not play pirated songs."

Sure, right, you've demonstrated a real expertise in security theory, Doug, why don't you explain exactly how this system would work. I mean, it sounds great on paper — as does stealing underwear — but HOW should iPods detect pirated songs? You don't even have to code this; I just want to hear your theory, here. Broad outline.

I'll help... let's see... "recognize pirated songs"... so, the iPod would have to somehow recognize which songs loaded onto it were copyrighted and which ones weren't... so it'd need access to some giant database somewhere of every song and audiobook protected by the RIAA, so if you loaded a new song onto it, it could compare it to every song every recorded and see if that song is copyrighted or not, right? Ok, ok, this is all very do-able...

But, hmm, the nefarious user's computer may not be connected to the internet when she loads up pirated music onto her iPod, so the iPod itself would have to connect to this huge database — wirelessly, of course, because what pirate is going to willingly plug her iPod into the internet just so it can check up on her? So we need to build wireless transceivers into iPods — no problem, we wanted that anyways — and we need to have them programmed to automatically sign into any network they find. Maybe we should have them satellite-phone based, in case there are no 802.11 networks around? I'm just spitballing, here.

Of course, some of the DRM-free, copyrighted songs on iPods have been legitimately purchased by the iPod owners, and then legally RIPped into MP3s. So, it's not enough to just see if a song has been copyrighted, we also need a database of every tape, record, and CD every person in the world has ever purchased, plus whether or not they've ever sold or given any music away, so we can see if the particular owner of this iPod really has the right to listen to this song.

Nope, no technical hurdles so far.

Maybe I'm being to harsh on you. Maybe what you're saying is that iPods should detect songs that are currently protected by DRM and are loaded onto the iPod in violation of the terms of the DRM's license.

In which case, hey, guess what — iPods already do this. The "RM" part of "DRM," it is. So, don't you look smart for suggesting it.



Look, the computer industry is not holding out on you, OK, Doug? We've been fighting piracy of our wares for thirty-five years, now, and we've lost every round. If you want to be a pirate, you can go online right now and download enabling codes to all your favorite programs (including mine). Why do you think we can do better for the recording industry?



Seriously, why does the press keep calling analysts for quotes? It's pretty clear these chuckleheads don't know the first thing about computer science. Three major errors in two sentences... I feel like the AP could have made up facts and had a better chance at being correct. "The music industry feels that anyone buying an iPod should first give the RIAA some money, because it's pretty clear they are going to pirate music. I mean, just look at them... the way they are dressed... Also, the music industry feels all iPods should be made of candy, so that lime iPods actually taste like delicious limes, and we don't chip our teeth again."

Next time, AP, call me, I'll give you a damn quote. Here, the first one is free: "It's about time record execs pull their heads out of their asses, and, after the giant 'schloORK' sound is done ringing in their ears, they start treating valued customers like they are valued and/or customers, instead of like a seething criminal class. Yes, there will always be people who steal music. So either offer the rest of us a compelling alternative to being one of them, or die the dinosaur's death that you so richly deserve."

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41 Comments:

Blogger Paul Davidson said...

Wow, that was quite an amusing, enjoyable post. :) John Gruber usually writes that sort of spot-on diatribe for his jackass-of-the-week columns, but he might just want to link to yours this week.

February 08, 2007 12:35 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL. What? Credit Suisse is German? Do you know what the word 'Suisse' means?

The fact of the matter is that the iPod/iTunes monopoly is much, much worse for consumers than the Windows/IE monopoly that spent so long getting tried in the late 90s.

But nevermind, Apple's got some nice glossy plastic, whereas microsoft was all about beige boxes, so they can't be evil. Right?

February 08, 2007 1:06 AM

 
Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Read the line about Credit Suisse again. You'll get it.

I am amazed how you got, "Apple has shiny plastic so they are good," from what I posted. You truly can read between the lines.

February 08, 2007 1:21 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that the iPod/iTunes monopoly is much, much worse for consumers than the Windows/IE monopoly that spent so long getting tried in the late 90s.

-1 Troll

Do you want to try explaining that? iPod/iTMS are the most popular, but they're not a "monopoly". Have you read Steve's article? Only 3% of the music on iPods is DRMed. How is this "worse" than the Windows/IE monopoly?

February 08, 2007 2:31 AM

 
Anonymous Enzo90910 said...

bagbnpGood karma for mentioning the halting problem, Wil. Although I have no idea at all how it compares to the weakness of all DRM-schemes, the first refering to a proven theorem, the second to a common sense truism.
Anyway, loud-mouthed analysts exists because people pay them in the first place. Let's make sure our banks don't use money (they steal from us) to pay some of these, ok?

February 08, 2007 3:15 AM

 
Blogger Matthew said...

Very nice, Anonymous. No blanket assertions there, just cold, hard facts.

Whatever the motivations behind Steve's letter, it was a very well constructed argument for Apple's take on DRM and I'm very glad that they have spoken out about it, rather than staying tight-lipped as usual. I just hope more companies follow suit and that the music industry really is in the process of dropping DRM for good.

February 08, 2007 3:25 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Steve clearly said he'd be willing to license FairPlay to others, but he can't because of the music industry's terms with Apple".
For me it doesn't become clear at all from steves post that apple would be willing to license it otherwise. Also, just saying they would if they could doesn't mean they actually will when they can.
For me this whole statement just sounds like another billionaire CEO doing whatever it takes to please the shareholders, and this requires right now to try and make up if european consumer groups.

February 08, 2007 3:43 AM

 
Blogger wph said...

Haha, Right on the money with that post.
DRM is ridiculous. People are ripping the songs from CD's and one unDRMed copy gets re-copied until it's everywhere.
Why burden the people that are actually buying the music legitimately?

February 08, 2007 3:57 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The fact of the matter is that the iPod/iTunes monopoly is much, much worse for consumers than the Windows/IE monopoly that spent so long getting tried in the late 90s."

It is a really bad thing, but I don't agree that it's much worse. In fact, it's not the monopoly that's a problem but rather the DRM. The good news is that Jobs just went on record as willing to end it. If the RIAA ever wises up we will not have this problem any longer.

In the meantime, you can just choose to purchase music in non-DRM formats (mostly CD) from non-RIAA members. I have thousands of CDs, 0 pirate music, 0 DRM music, and in the last few years refuse to purchase RIAA music. I think it's time to start a boycott to that effect until RIAA gets the message.

February 08, 2007 4:43 AM

 
Blogger TB3 said...

Becoming an 'analyst' seems to be a burgeoning career field for idiots.

Look at the stupidities spouted every day from the geniuses at Forrester, Gartner, and of course that 'tard, Rob Enderle.

Really, who pays these people?

February 08, 2007 5:01 AM

 
Blogger Rich said...

Maybe 'anonymous' is an analyst of something too? He seems to have analysed your blog post almost as well as your afformentioned idiot analyst looked into "Thoughts On Music".

Rich

February 08, 2007 5:06 AM

 
Anonymous telos said...

Great post.

This "analyst" is obviously a total idiot. On top of what you've already mentioned, he also fails to realise that the only way DRM could possibly ensure a "potential for a future digital-only distribution model free of piracy" is if the music industry stop selling CDs completely. Since there's no way they'll be doing this any time soon, DRM is a totally pointless instrument to achieve the aforementioned future.

I find it quite astounding how hard it is for seemingly intelligent people to realise that CD's are necessarily DRM-free (IEC 908), given that they are required to work on millions of existing players around the world.

February 08, 2007 5:29 AM

 
Anonymous Davide said...

The last paragraph desevres a mention in every anthology of the grotesque, kudos to Will.

February 08, 2007 5:43 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice and intersting post Mr. Shipley as (amlost:-)) always. I think the quote of the Deutsche Bank analyst shows again that many people, even professionals, try to comment on things without even taking the time to read and understand them.

Chris

February 08, 2007 6:27 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice and intersting post Mr. Shipley as (amlost:-)) always. I think the quote of the Deutsche Bank analyst shows again that many people, even professionals, try to comment on things without even taking the time to read and understand them.

Chris

February 08, 2007 6:28 AM

 
Anonymous Daniel Brauer said...

What does the halting problem have to do with cracking DRM? I thought it was about the inability for one computer program to detect whether any other will halt or not, given an arbitrary set of input data. And it's only true for the general case, too. There are plenty of types of infinite loops that can be predicted.

I could see the halting problem as an analogy for figuring out whether a DRM will ever be cracked, but the argument is that it will always be cracked eventually, so the issue of halting or not is moot.

Anyway, maybe I'm missing something.

February 08, 2007 6:45 AM

 
Blogger Step said...

To see someone actually claim the iPod/iTunes "monopoly" is much, much worse for consumers than Windows/IE . . . I had to laugh out loud. How, please tell me?!

Oh, btw, I use eMusic with my iPod. And with my computers. And I have some CDs I've burned from my iTunes purchases that play - gasp! - in my car cd player or anywhere else.


hmmmm....

February 08, 2007 6:53 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@anonymous above: thanks for your demonstration of the exact level of attention that Doug Mitchelson gave to Job's blog post. brilliant. are you an analyst too?

if you had bothered to actually READ Wil's writing, instead of skimming it for news bites, you would have comprehended his humor.

thanks, Wil, for the laugh this morning, especially in that last bit. my lungs are hurting now, you bastard.

February 08, 2007 7:06 AM

 
Blogger Phillip said...

How much pull does Jobs have at Disney to allow selling Disney movies without DRM? He's on the board I believe...and I've read there are several labels and indie groups that say they definitely want to sell non-DRM music through iTunes.

I love what Jobs wrote, but it seems like soon we'll see if they were just words.

February 08, 2007 7:22 AM

 
Blogger Tim said...

Good God this is a wonderfully entertaining rant, complete with the answer to what sound a head makes when it is removed from an internal place.

Definitely going in the feed reader...

February 08, 2007 7:55 AM

 
Blogger Marcus said...

He is just following your advice and making shit up. Don't knock him for listening to your advice! ;-)

February 08, 2007 9:14 AM

 
Blogger Marcus said...

He is just following your advice and making shit up. Don't knock him for listening to you! ;-)

February 08, 2007 9:16 AM

 
Anonymous Bobby Firestone said...

Coming from the world of finance most analysts are morons. The only reason the AP doesn't make up their own is the ease of getting some big bank jackass to do it for them. The research departments are more concerned with the weight of reports than the content.

February 08, 2007 10:01 AM

 
Blogger Matt Chaput said...

Apparently he was too busy reading between the lines and forgot to read... well, the lines. Hence missing the Swiss/German joke.

(Chuckle) Oh, anonymous, will you *ever* learn?

February 08, 2007 10:43 AM

 
Blogger Jason Lancaster said...

"schloORK" Hah! I love it. You've had one of the first pro-Jobs and most comical comments I've seen on blogging radar today. Thanks!

February 08, 2007 11:11 AM

 
Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Halting problem:

Ok, I admit i'm a bit out on a limb here, but here's my explanation:

- One was to envision the proof of the halting problem is to simply say, "Look, whatever code you give me that solves the halting problem, I'm going to run that in a simulated environment, and then if your code returned false, I'll return true, so hah."

- For DRM, you can pretty much do the same thing -- whatever magic code you give me that solves it once and for all, I can put into a simulated environment and change the outcome of it. Eg, if it can be executed on a computer, I can analyse it and change it.

Now, this assumes I have ability to put Turing-complete programs on whatever hardware I have that's checking the music -- but this has also always been the case. (c.f. Linux for iPods, Wiis, etc.)

February 08, 2007 12:03 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was surprised you didn't touch on the elephant in the room. DRM has never been about piracy, it has been about rewriting the rights for normal users. DRM might fail on the piracy front, but it's wildly successful at the latter. And once digital sales account for most of music sold, rather than a fraction, that's a really great position for the record companies to be in. The RIAA and this analyst both know what the real prize is, they are simply too slimy to be open and honest about it.

February 08, 2007 3:21 PM

 
Anonymous Isaiah said...

Sometimes I envy that you write really cool software and mine is... well... not. Other days I envy the car. But I think right now I envy that you can invent and post onomatopoeia for the sounds of heads and asses -- and you'll probably do better business because of it.

OK, it was short lived, now I'm back to the car.

February 08, 2007 10:12 PM

 
Anonymous Dave said...

Mitchelson was listening to his iPod (which probably has pirated music) while reading Jobs's post. Apparently several of your commenters were doing likewise when they read yours.

February 08, 2007 10:47 PM

 
Blogger Wil Shipley said...

isaiah:

The Lotus will be for sale in a year or so -- as soon as Tesla gets a service center in Seattle, or when the new Esprit comes out, if it's like what the rumors say.

February 09, 2007 2:28 AM

 
Blogger Gary Patterson said...

Ever hear of an analyst who retired young on their own stock tips? Or an analyst who keeps a running tally of their success rate?

The value of any analyst is always how accurate they are. Their past predictions are the only guide we have for that, so an analyst is only as good as their last year's predictions.

There are some famously bad 'analysts' in the world, who never seem to get anything right. Maybe this new analyst is hoping to see what the nadir of an industry really looks like.

February 09, 2007 3:40 AM

 
Blogger leeg said...

Well, is it not obvious? The pirates should be DRM wrapping their illegal files so that the iPod can inspect the piracy metadata and refuse to play it. That also means there's no need to DRM wrap legitimate files, because when someone goes to pirate that file, they're going to add the piracy metadata first. That means that all legitimate files can be played on all players, because the legitimate files can be in an open format such as OGG. I can't believe that solution hasn't been proposed before.

February 09, 2007 6:33 AM

 
Anonymous Bob Peterson said...

Wil was simply channelling Don Martin, the dean of onomatopoeia.

February 09, 2007 8:09 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we also need a database of every tape, record, and CD every person in the world has ever purchased

... is this a plug for DM 2.0 ? :-)

February 09, 2007 11:02 AM

 
Blogger Chris Forbes said...

Hey Mr. Shipley,

I started to comment on your blog but my thoughts quickly got way too long to be posted as a comment. Instead, I just posted it on my blog. Hopefully, you'll read it.

Thanks,
Chris Forbes

February 10, 2007 11:05 PM

 
Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Chris:

I'm not sure where you got the idea I'm a Steve Jobs fanboy. Nothing in my post said I "hung on his every word" or that I even supported him.

What I *did* say was that analyst's PARTICULAR criticisms of Steve were crazy. I did NOT say that ALL criticisms of Steve are out of line -- you imagined that part.

Pretty much the only comment I made about Steve and not the analyst was that I thought his blog placement was pretty swank. I don't think that can be construed as fanboyism.

February 11, 2007 3:30 AM

 
Anonymous Yoshino Kurokawa said...

And 'lo, thus behold the actual workings of mortal man, both in intellect and composure.

Rare have I seen a blog that is this interesting - and fiercely competent. I have to admit that DRM is a problem, to which there is no absolute answer - but until both sides accede to a bit of wisdom (especially the music industry - quit blaming the consumers for *everything*), this will continue until who knows when.

Fine writing good sir.

February 11, 2007 6:32 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PWNED

February 11, 2007 5:28 PM

 
Anonymous Jamie Aaron said...

I read Steve's blog post, and I think it's great that he is pro-change on this terrible system.

Let's not "forgive and forget" Metallica's role as spokesmen for the corporations. The momentum of this system was greatly enhanced with Metallica in the forefront.

I congratulate Southpark for their episode about illegal music downloads.

Finally, if I like the music, the software, and the people developing them, I WILL buy it.

An artist that doesn't put the fans first doesn't deserve another dime.

February 15, 2007 12:23 PM

 
Anonymous corwin said...

Seriously, why does the press keep calling analysts for quotes? It's pretty clear these chuckleheads don't know the first thing about computer science.

Really, the "about computer science" part is extraneous. It's pretty clear these chuckleheads don't know the first thing about anything, including being a stock analyst.

February 16, 2007 9:46 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what the analyst is saying is that ipods should refuse to play un-drm'd music, and that itunes should add drm to any music that it sends to your ipod. exactly like what microsoft does with their player. it doesn't matter if the music comes from a cd you've purchased, it should still have drm added to it so the ipod will accept to play it. the end result being that you are forced to buy the same music multiple times, to play on different devices or simply when it expires.
you have to understand where these guys are coming from. they're not so much idiots as parasites trying to make a living any which way they can manage. they probably think they're being pretty clever here, too.

February 18, 2007 4:04 PM

 

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