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.