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.

  5 comments for “Foo Fighters Good; Sony Bad

  1. Rich
    August 29, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    Totally agree with you, Ron. Not only is archiving your CDs a good idea in case of wear and tear, but also in case of thievery. Back when some punk ripped my car’s radio, he also skipped off with about 15 CDs. Had I archived them, I wouldn’t have had been as torqued. As it is, I have still yet to replace all of the CDs that were stolen from me.

    Also, I haven’t gotten into the last Foo Fighters album for some reason. I think it’s going to have to take me a couple of more spins for it to sink in. Rumor has it that quite a bit of the song’s lyrical content have to do with Kurt Cobain (which makes sense, since FF’s frontman, Dave Grohl, was Nirvana’s drummer).

  2. Ron
    August 29, 2005 at 11:35 pm

    Heh. I didn’t even think about the theft angle, but now that you mention it, I had CDs stolen from my car when it was broken into at CCI back in the day. And Lesley had a ton of ’em stolen from her Saturn last year while she was at a gas station refueling the car.

    Some home owners insurance policies will cover the loss of CDs from a car.

    Re: the Foo Fighters album, it’s almost like two different bands playing on the two discs. But that’s sort of what I like about it. They get complaints that all their stuff sounds the same, but I doubt that observation could be made about “In Your Honor”.

    The Cobain references are definitely there. “Friend of a Friend” has a line about a guitar player who ‘tells his friends that he drinks too much, and no one speaks’. There’s a lot of Cobain references in the art world, beyond just the Nirvana crew. I saw a play at South Coast Repertory called On the Mountain last season (get the reference?) about a rebellious teenager who has been raised by her thirty-something mother after her rock star lover committed suicide when the girl was an infant. Try a Google search for “Kurt Cobain” and “South Coast Repertory”, you can read all about it.

  3. Jon
    August 30, 2005 at 8:53 am

    When I was younger, I bought 1,500 CDs mostly new (some used) between 1985 and 1997. That’s 2.22 CDs purchased per week every week for 13 years. If we average $11 per disc to account for used vs. new, that’s $16,500 I’ve given the industry. After 1997, my purchasing slowed way down and I started a project to digitize my collection. I also was victim to theft from my dorm room – 33 CDs in 1991.

    Nowadays, I’m so disgusted with the industry’s “tactics,” I don’t buy any CDs new. Plain and simple. I buy used. Also, if there’s a CD I really want to get and I know that it has one of these copy protection schemes, I won’t get it at all unless I know the workaround for the copy protection. If I don’t, then I’ll get MP3s from a friend. You see, I don’t really listen to CDs at all anymore. I just ordered a batch of eight used CDs from Amazon and within minutes of opening the packages, they were ripped to the hard drive. I do all my music listening in three ways – 1) My Archos MP3 player; 2) Sitting in front of my computer; 3) Streaming the music to the living room stereo via my wireless network. I don’t even have a CD player hooked up in the living room and all my portable CD players are in a box in a closet.

    I’m the kind of consumer that iTunes was built for. But I don’t do iTunes. I tried the software and didn’t like it. The music is too expensive for music that has DRM on it. I’ll gladly pay $0.49 for a non-protected (256K/sec or more bitrate) MP3. But I won’t pay $0.99 for a DRM’d song in a file format that doesn’t play nice with my non-Apple digital entertainment products. I’ll pay $5 for an all digital non-DRM album, but $10 is too much to not get physical product, artwork and such. This is especially true, considering that my recent order to Amazon for eight non-protected CDs (in cases with artwork/booklets) came out to $2.16 per disc before shipping and about $4.70 per disc shipped.

  4. Ron
    August 30, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    I hear you. It seems that Apple hit the jackpot with iTunes because it’s extremely popular, but I’m one of the few who doesn’t use it either.

    I don’t like the way Apple designs things. They have a tendency to force you into sticking with their proprietary format and also force you to upgrade. I’m sure you’ve heard of iTunes’ issues with that sort of stuff, and the Mac has been victim of it for years.

    I just rip my songs to high quality MP3 using Windows Media Player and organize them in folders on my hard drive. I know MP3 isn’t the audiophile’s format of choice, but it’s fine for me.

    You’re the fifth person I’ve heard of since yesterday who’s had dozens of CDs pilfered from their home or car. Considering that I’ve only talked to five people about it, that’s a pretty good percentage, and all the more reason to back up one’s music collection. As you noted, the financial investment in a mature music library can be considerable.

  5. Edd
    November 21, 2005 at 9:37 am

    (I know I’m late to the party, but a good post)
    The ironic thing is, if your CD does get stolen, it’s against Sony-BMG’s License (that you never get to agree to) to continue to listen to a backup copy. No really!

    I think when Sony decides to treat its law-abiding, music-loving customers this way, it’s time to stop being one of those customers. Either by boycotting Sony, getting music that other, easier (now) way, or both.

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