Category Archives: DRM

Reply from AmieStreet

Yesterday, I sent AmieStreet a link to my blog post regarding their decision to disallow multiple downloads of your purchased songs. Here is their response (bold added by

Thanks for getting in touch with the post you made about Amie Street’s forthcoming change in download policy.  Although I know this isn’t necessarily an ideal change for you, I hope you might understand that as a digital music retailer we have to walk a fine line between keeping our customers satisfied and still respecting the wishes of the record labels that provide us with music.  With regard to this relationship we have with record labels, I was hoping to clarify some things with regard to ‘licensing’ and the cost of internet sales.

Although many users see a qualitative difference between the sale of a digital album and the sale of a physical CD, the legal framework surrounding royalties and payments is not different – a digital album is still considered a ‘product’ accompanied by license for personal use as opposed to a ‘license to a product’.  As you might not be aware, that means that every distributed download of a song (note: download, not purchase) is considered equivalent to the creation of a physical CD and so accompanied by a mandatory mechanical license fee of 9.1 cents per song, an amount set by the US Copyright Royalty Board.  (To be more specific, I believe the rate is technically 9.1 cents or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time, whichever is greater.)

Within this legal framework, your purchase is for one copy of the album in question and a situation such as a hard disk crash is seen by record labels and publishers as roughly equivalent to breaking a compact disc; just as you would have to repurchase the CD in such a situation, you would also have to repurchase the MP3 if you haven’t backed it up elsewhere.  We will continue to offer DRM-free MP3s to all of our users, however, and provide no hindrance to making backups of your content as you desire.

I understand that you might not see it this way but as a business we must respect the laws of the country in which we operate; although we would prefer to continue with our existing manner of handling downloads, this is a policy change about which we have absolutely no choice.

Once again, I appreciate your understanding with regards to this situation, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.

The luddites at the Copyright Royalty Board apparently fail to realize that there are millions of songs available for free on the internet with no limit on the number of downloads.

Sigh. I am just going to let the bold parts of the letter speak for themselves. I wish AmieStreet and all other digital media vendors the best of luck in this market. They are doing their best to provide an excellent service in the face of true adversity.

AmieStreet removes ability to re-download your music

I just recieved the email below from AmieStreet, an online music store that charges increasing amounts for songs as they become more popular. You can often pick up a great album for next to nothing, recommend it to others and actually make money back as the songs grow in popularity. It’s a great website and a very novel way of distributing DRM-free digital music.

In several weeks we’re going to be making a change to how Amie Street handles downloads, and we want to be certain you are fully informed in advance about this change. In brief, starting on August 5th we’ll only be able to offer a single download of your purchased music unless you’ve encountered a technical problem.

Although most people only download their music one time, we’ve noticed that you have done so more than once on occasion. We realize that the ability to re-download files has been important to you, so it’s understandable that you might be disappointed to see this no longer available. Unfortunately a number of factors beyond our control, including legal and royalty concerns, have made this impossible going forward.

We’re very happy to say, however, that you can continue to stream all of the music you’ve purchased on Amie Street. That means wherever you have access to the internet, you also have immediate and unrestricted access to stream the entirety of your Amie Street music collection from your library.

To make sure that downloading music continues to be as easy as possible, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the user experience and making updates to the site as needed. The primary voice that directs any such changes will be yours, so if you have suggestions based on your experiences using the site, we’d love to hear from you at Tell us exactly what you like and don’t like, and we can make Amie Street even better!

The truth is, that I have only re-downloaded music on a couple of occasions, most likely because I purchased the music while at work, forgot to take it home with me and then re-downloaded it when I got home.  The other re-downloads have been due to technical issues involving pop-up blockers and an old design of the AmieStreet website, that was fixed long ago. In other words, this is not a service that I use a great deal. Once I have downloaded my music, I know where it is and I do not (generally) need to download it again.

However, I can’t help but feel a little irritated by this move.  It’s not that I want or even need to download my music multiple times – it’s that it feels like a step backwards.  The days of purchasing a physical medium are drawing to an end and more and more services are provided as digital downloads. I haven’t purchased a physical CD for months, probably years, and yet I bought two digital albums from Amazon a copule of weeks ago.

I have dozens of old CD’s that are scratched and no longer play without skipping. To obtain new copies of these albums requires that I buy them again, either digitally or as physical items. This is a constraint of the media, and one that I was perfectly happy with when there was no other alternative. If you break something, you have to buy a new one – it works the same way with all physical property.

On the other hand, AmieStreet (and all other digital media vendors) already know that I purchased the music. Or at least, they know that I purchased a license to listen to the music, which is something entirely different and yet completely meaningless to most people. If my computer bursts into flames or something, why can I not re-download music that I have already paid for? It isn’t going to cost any more to throw a few megabytes acrosss the internet to my new computer, as it would cost to create a new product then package and ship it to me.

Perhaps the idea is that I bought a license to listen to only the version that I downloaded, and no other digital copy of the same song? So by copying it to my iPod or another computer, I’m breaking the license agreement? I would like to think that this line of reasoning is nonsense, but by allowing customers to download a song only once, this is the model that is being applied. AmieStreet (or more likely, a team of lawyers barking at their heels) is trying to apply a physical model to a virtual world which is not constrained by the laws of physics.

Whatever the reasoning behind this move, it is an utterly pointless restriction and ultimately self-destructive. People that actually pay for their music are once again being hampered for doing the right thing.  Why add artificial barriers for people that actually want to give you their money? When there are unlimited free downloads of almost everything you can imagine, why make the paid version worse?

Those people that do not want to pay for their music will continue to recieve high-quality, DRM-free, re-downloadable media whenever they want it. Those of us who choose to do the right thing and buy their music, will end up with an inferior service and in many cases DRM-encumbered music that treats the customer like a thief .

It doesn’t matter who you are, or how powerful you think you are – like King Canute, you cannot stop the digital tide.

Spore vs The Force Unleashed

Just a quick note to let Electronic Arts know that I won’t be buying Spore – at least until they remove the draconian DRM from it. I’m not paying $50 for a game I can only install 3 times, even if I uninstall it after each new install. What happens when the activation servers go offline in a few years?

Anyway, enough people have written about this, including bombing the Amazon reviews for the game, that I don’t really have much to add. Other than the fact that I won’t be pirating it either. Downloading and playing a cracked version will only enforce EA’s view that the game didn’t sell due to piracy – and not becaue of the ridiculous restrictions placed upon it.

So I bought my son Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for his birthday instead. It’s not a very deep or challenging game, but until you’ve seen a seven year old jumping up and down on the couch while cutting down clone troopers with a Wii remote, using his force powers to blow everything up – well, you just haven’t lived!

Game Copy Protection vs. Piracy

Earlier this week, I decided to pull an old game off my shelf and run through it again. I’ll do this every now and then, especially for good games or games that I think might run better on a newer system. So, I installed and played Spellforce for a few hours before heading off to bed.

The next morning, I launched the game and was immediately greeted with the following message:

conflict: a hook process was found. Please deactivate all Antivirus and Anti-Trojan programs and debuggers

Well, isn’t that interesting. I Googled around for a bit and found numerous other people with the same problem. The general advice was to disable spyware/virus scanners, cross your fingers and hope for the best. No support from the developers at all.

After about an hour of fooling around disabling various applications, rebooting and generally wasting time, I took a trip over to GameCopyWorld and downloaded the cracked version. I didn’t download the entire game, just the “fixed” executable that is intended to allow you to play the game without the DVD in the drive. However, the cracked version had the following extra benefits:

  • Play the game without the DVD in the drive
  • No need to enter the serial number to activate the game (which is a huge benefit, as the serial that I have contains several ambiguous instances of 0 and o, l and 1, making it a total PITA to type in and get right)
  • Cracked executable is only 3Mb – the official executable is 15Mb.
  • The game actually works!

So, the official version of the game won’t work, but a “cracked” version works perfectly – and even contains extra benefits – when compared to the version I paid money for.

Is it illegal to use the cracked executable on my system? Really, I don’t care. If push comes to shove I can prove that I own the game, but given the developers lack of support for such a widespread problem I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

However, the bigger question is: When are software developers (and the DRM-happy music industry) going to realize that these copy-protection measures serve nothing except the alienation of paying customers. If the software can be cracked aanyway, and become more useful (or even just useable) in the process, why bother to include it in the first place?