The DMCA vs. Interoperability, Part 3

by on January 24, 2006

Here’s yet another group of customers being needlessly antagonized by DRM technology–wealthy audiophiles:

Steve Vasquez, the founder of ReQuest, which makes ultra-high end streaming audio networks for homes, says his company struggles with the limitations of DRM-protected audio files.

“We have an open system that can stream off a server to another house, but the DRM mechanism doesn’t recognize that possibility,” Vasquez said. “We have clients who have multiple units in one house and multiple units in multiple houses who want to be able to use music in those devices as well as portable ones. DRM is a limitation that limits innovation.”

A similar system made by Sonos creates a mesh-wireless network that connects up to 32 remote amplifiers with music stored on a home computer, but the company hides music bought through Apple’s iTunes store, according to co-founder Thomas Cullen.

“We don’t want to taunt them,” Cullen said. “The best thing we can do is hide iTunes songs so they don’t get an expectation they can play them.”

Ninety percent of his customers own iPods, according to Cullen, and many call in after first buying the system, wondering where their iTunes songs are. But after the company explains it is Apple’s DRM that prevents the file from playing, users universally respond that they will go back to buying CDs that they can then rip into non-DRMed audio files, Cullen said.

Without the DMCA, these companies could reverse-engineer the DRM in order to support music downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. But as long as the DMCA is on the books, any attempt to support those songs without Apple’s permission is a violation of federal law.

So far, most consumers are blissfully ignorant that when they buy DRMed music or videos, they’re locking themselves into playing the content only on devices approved by the company that developed the DRM scheme. I hope and expect that there will be a fierce consumer backlash when this becomes more widely recognized.

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