So you want to be in a rock band?: Stealing solutions

A possible solution to digital thievery? Well, not quite.

Continuing on with last week's assessment of our music market and digital piracy concerns, it's important to note, that although still rudimentary and somewhat flawed, new technologies are currently being refined in order to battle the formidable foe of major record labels: The Internet.

A few years back, upon the brink of Napster's short-lived popularity and lifespan as a free file-sharing service, British innovators at Fortium Technologies (previously First4Internet) seized an opportunity. Unlike the major labels who believed the issue of digital piracy would find a quick resolution commencing the shutdown of Napster's services, the technologists at Fortium prepared for what they predicted as the inevitable future: a music industry falling victim to Napster copycat programs in desperate need of an audio-content protection solution. What has come to be known in today's industry as XCP (the extended copyright protection system) evolved from Fortium's initial efforts which took form in the highly controversial “rootkit software” of 2005.

For those of you unfamiliar with rootkit, here's a brief history: Sony-BMG, completely enthralled by the very thought of an attempt to kick this “illegal downloading thing” where it hurts, preemptively jumped on board releasing over 50 titles (from various artists) with this relatively untested technology included on each disc. When a customer purchased one of the rootkit enhanced discs and placed it into their computer drive, a software component named “Media-Max 3D” would, unbeknownst to them, be automatically installed on their computer. The purpose of Media-Max 3D was to prohibit consumers from reading the disc with any other music player such as iTunes or Windows Media Player which in turn disallowed the possibility of cd ripping, and limited cd burning, so that users could only create about two extra copies of a given disc for personal use.

Although, I'm fairly certain most of you would be familiar with how P2P content-sharing systems work, the importance of Media-Max 3D's function is this: by disabling the ripping process of a cd, a user is unable to retrieve audio tracks from that disc, convert them into mp3 format, and upload them to a file-sharing server, thereby (in theory) eliminating the possibility of illegal file-sharing/downloading.

Now here's where things got interesting. Consumers began to notice malfunctions with their Windows operating systems shortly after listening to one of these enhanced discs on their computers. It was later concluded that Media-Max 3D was responsible for installing spyware (a malicious computer virus portal) onto all desktops with which it had contact.

Although this scandal remained fairly “hush-hush” to the wider population, several lawsuits were filed against Sony-BMG for privacy invasion, all of the catalog releases (estimated over 500,000) that included this technology had to be recalled and exchanged for standard discs, not to mention Fortium Technology's name change, which deflected a great deal of the blame off of their company.

Since this unfortunate series of events, Fortium has made alternations to their digital content-protection software re-launching it as XCP. Though Fortium has assured both consumers and labels interested in licensing this software that, “the control program provided as part of the disc management system only resides on the CDR media and does not install any programs on the PC, ” potential users and buyers remain sceptical at best. Irrespective of Fortium's claim to having the grandiose solution (for a whopping $10,000 per license, and that's not including tax, or manufacturing costs, mind you), another major issue in the fight against music piracy is still going unaddressed. That issue is preventing users from uploading purchased songs from legitimate online music stores onto illegal P2P free file-sharing servers. There is no way to police this, and all it takes is a single user to purchase tracks from a legitimate online music store, and allow access to his/her music library free of charge via one of the many (and growing) population of P2P servers. Additionally, recent reports have revealed that computer “hackers” have discovered a way to steal music directly off of licensed programs such as iTunes, so it would seem to me that Fortium's invention really only solves a small piece of this highly complex puzzle. What's worse is that as a globally interacting planet, we cannot seem to establish some sort of agreed upon method for internet governance or regulation. I hate to say it, but the solution seems very far off indeed.

However, the Internet is not all bad. In fact, it has served as an invaluable tool to the benefit of many artists, especially independent ones, including myself, and I can sincerely say that a great deal of my band's accomplishments would not have been possible without its advent.