Foo Fighters Good; Sony Bad
Some of the most relaxing moments of the San Carlos dive trip were had during surface intervals on the boat. A ‘surface interval’ is a period of time spent on the surface in between dives. This time allows the body to naturally rid itself of excess nitrogen accumulated while breathing compressed air at depth. Without an appropriate surface interval, a diver runs the risk of having this nitrogen come out of solution in the blood and form bubbles which can cause pain, vomiting, paralysis, and even death.
Anyway, our surface intervals were typically in the 60-90 minute range. We’d use the time to eat lunch, fish, and just relax. Well one day, David put the new Foo Fighters CD, In Your Honor, in the boat’s CD player. It’s a two disc set — one hard rock, one acoustic. The acoustic side was just mellow enough to fit perfectly with that quiet contemplative time out on the water. I really loved it and made a mental note to pick up the album once we got back to the States.
I finally got around to it today, and the first thing I did was rip it to my hard drive so Retrospect could back it up tonight along with the rest of my data. Few people back up CDs for disaster recover purposes, but who among us hasn’t scratched a CD just enough to turn it into a $14.99 coaster? I also use the local copy to free myself from having to schlep the CD back and forth between the car and house.
So much for simple plans. I discovered that Sony uses a copy protection scheme on the album which prevents the listener from burning an archival copy of the CD. The technology, from Sunncomm International, is called MediaMax. It stops rippers (I tried Winamp, Easy Media Creator, Nero, and Media Player) from doing the deed. Some may appear to rip the tracks, but when you listen to them they skip incessantly.
Got an iPod or use iTunes? Then you’re out of luck, too. As Sunncomm explains it, “Apple’s proprietary technology doesn’t support secure music formats other than their own, and therefore the secure music file formats on this disc can’t be directly imported into iTunes or iPods.” You’re essentially limited to using Windows Media Player or another ‘secure’ player that MediaMax can get its claws into.
Needless to say, this stinks. Thankfully, J. Alex Halderman at Princeton University has dissected the MediaMax copy protection system and found an easy way around it.
Basically, MediaMax works by installing a proprietary driver as soon as the CD is inserted. This driver not only prevents ripping of protected content, but won’t even allow said content to be played unless the appropriate licenses are present. So disabling the copy protection is as simple as a) disabling the MediaMax driver, and b) ensuring the Windows auto-play functionality doesn’t have a chance to reinstall it.
For the nitty gritty, check out Halderman’s site. The instructions were stone simply and only took me 30 seconds to accomplish. Since then, I’ve been able to rip, archive, and play the Foo Fighters CD as though the copy protection scheme never existed. Because as far as my computer is concerned, it never did.
To the best of my knowledge, circumventing MediaMax neither immoral or illegal. I’m simply making an archival copy for my own use, and not doing anything I could’t do by simply carrying the CD around with me wherever I go. Reverse engineering the MediaMax software is prohibited by the license agreement, but then, I never agreed to it. And even if I had, I’m not reverse engineering anything. I’m simply removing a driver from my system — something I’d want to do anyway. Windows gets so cluttered up with needless software that it slows boot up times and consumes precious memory. Efficiency and security both dictate that any services not absolutely required for operation be disabled or downright removed from Windows.
If I’d known this copy protection junk was on the album, I never would have bought it in the first place. I love the music, but at the end of the day my money went to support — and therefore encourage — Sony’s adoption of intrusive software which prevents me from using music I paid for in ways which are completely legal.