From Robert Cringely: "A U.S. Government Panel Has Recommended a Royalty System That Will Probably Kill Internet Radio and Make Possible a Better System to Follow"

But, sadly, his ‘better system’ wouldn’t work. At least, not to kill off illegal copying. As far as I can see, no matter how much software encryption you try to throw at the problem, music copying will always be with us, for a simple reason:

At some point in the decoding of the music, it must be converted to plain digital amplitude samples to be fed to the digital-to-analogue converters on the sound card, which in turn create the voltages which drive the loudspeaker. All it takes is for somebody to write a bit of software which sits between the music player and the soundcard and siphons off the plain amplitude samples and, hey, you’ve got a WAV file. This bit of software can masquerade as a soundcard driver. Many such utilities already exist and they work regardless of which particular bit of music-playing software you use.

The only alternative is to require the decrypting code to be built into the soundcard hardware so that no software can get at the plain bytes. Only people with the decrypting sound hardware would be able to hear the music. This is just about plausible, but then people would just copy at the analogue level. The resulting quality would be fine for a world which is happy with 128kbps MP3s. It would, however, be rather less convenient.

You see, the convenience is the key. The reason I use Napster and its clones is not that I’m not willing to pay for music. It’s that if I hear a song on the radio, like it, remember a few lines from the chorus and want to hear it again, there is no other easy way to get a copy of it. The way for the recording industries to control this is not by trying to legislate against all distributors in all the different legal systems around the world. They can’t win that way. What they should be doing instead is coming up with a really good service which is so convenient, high quality, and reasonably priced that for most people, using anything else simply isn’t worth the bother.

Perhaps that’s what Cringely meant, actually.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser