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for August 31, 2004

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Fear and Loathing in Geosynchronous Orbit
by Mike Sauter

[The following originally appeared at Mike's Minutiae, which is Mike Sauter's little corner of cyberspace. Mike has graciously permitted its appearance here at Altrok.]

Homegrown satellite radio software draws XM fire:

Catching Blondie's reunion tour broadcast at 4 in the morning wasn't an option for XM satellite radio subscriber and single father Scott MacLean. "I was missing concerts that were being broadcasted when I was asleep or out," he said.
So the 35-year-old computer programmer from Ottawa, Ontario, wrote a piece of software that let him record the show directly onto his PC hard drive while he snoozed.
The software, TimeTrax, also neatly arranged the individual songs from the concert, complete with artist name and song title information, into MP3 files.
Then MacLean started selling the software, putting him in the thick of a potential legal battle pitting technically savvy fans against a company protecting its alliance and licensing agreements with the music industry.

The fact that the music industry is getting freaked out over this demonstrates just how threatened our future ability to record anything for personal use is. This software is basically just a smart VCR for XM radio.

The flap suggests two points:

  1. Expect a serious attempt to overturn the Sony Betamax decision (or at least rendered toothless by Congress). Clearly, the music/movie industries have set their sights on killing this Supreme Court case, which made home video taping for personal use legal, by preventing it from being extended to any new technology. Fortunately, not all courts are willing to go along with them.
  2. Expect any analog copying to come under the same fire as digital copying. The RIAA have made statements at times that "digital copying" was the real problem, since it theoretically allows for unlimited perfect copying. But as the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (AHRA), as the RIAA themselves pointed out (via a now-defunct consumer outreach website, quoted here), "As long as the copying is done for noncommericial use, the AHRA gives consumers immunity from suit for all analog music copying."

Here's the catch, though. The above article states that the software "essentially marries the song information with an analog recording of the broadcasts, then stores this in MP3 files." The recording is likely made using analog audio outputs, but since the recording is then stored digitally the RIAA will likely argue that it becomes a digital copy and, thus, liable for a lawsuit.
The article quotes RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy as saying "We remain concerned about any devices or software that permit listeners to transform a broadcast into a music library" (emphasis added). Digital, analog, whatever.
Though time-shifting via recording is currently protected under the Sony Betamax decision, the RIAA wishes to prevent any after-the-fact manipulation of that recording--which could enable a user to automatically separate the broadcast into individual songs.
The RIAA recently asked the FCC to mandate a "broadcast flag," or copy protection, on future digital radio broadcasting:

The proposed functionality would allow users to make digital copies of transmissions but not to break those copies up into individual tracks.
The major record companies are concerned that digital radio will be used as a means of copying CD-quality music and uploading it onto file-sharing services on the Internet; at the same time, they know they must avoid restricting time-shifting activities that are guaranteed by legal precedent. Digital radio users would be allowed to edit copies of broadcasts into individual songs, of course, if they convert the content to analog or transcode it into an editable digital format; such processes amount to "speed bumps" that hinder the scalability of pirate activity.

This "speed bump" theory of copy prevention is dopey at best. It just takes one person to make the effort, and then the fruits of that individual's labors could be shared freely.
I think I'm drifting far off-point, but then again, I'm not sure I had a single point. I think the upshot is, as always: drop the price of legal music, and the problem largely goes away.

©2004 Mike Sauter

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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