Submitted by amit on Thu, 2006-08-31 16:05

Today while reading technology related news on the inquirer I stumbled upon a new software project site . The hymn-project's goal is to create an application that will break Apple's DRM. This technology is used by Apple to prevent unlimited copying the music you downloaded from their iTunes Music Store. If you look at conditions and restrictions that Apple puts on the music you purchase from ITMS, they seem reasonable for most user's needs. Apple allows you to download and play the music on up-to 5 computers. Only these computers can decrypt the DRM'ed songs and play them or transfer them to an iPod to take with you. There are some legitimate concerns as stated on the hymn-project front page. Quoted below:

Why use Hymn Project software?

  • To decrypt your iTunes protected AAC files so that they can be played on operating systems for which no official version of iTunes exists, such as Linux.
  • To use non-Apple AAC-capable hardware to play your music.
  • To eliminate the five computer limit imposed by iTunes.
  • To make archival backups of your music.
  • As the first step in converting your music from protected AAC to MP3, Ogg, or your other favorite audio file format, for use with your non-iPod portable audio player.
  • To demonstrate your belief in the principles of fair-use under copyright law.

Most of these are legitimate concerns and probably would qualify under fair use (I am no lawyer, this is just my guess), except for the last one. However, one can see where this going to be used. Once this gets out in the wild people will purchase music from iTunes, use the hymn-project software and convert it to the popular format like MP3 and then can share it over P-2-P sites. So we are back to the same problem of the Napster of the old. In some countries (DMCA in USA, EUCD in EU) use of hymn-project application will be illegal because it is a circumvention device, but once the file is in unencrypted MP3 format it's difficult to tell where it came from. It's possible that the content industry will develop some new technology to 'watermark' the content to trace the origins.

When the content industry argues that DRM is necessary to protect the rights of the original artists and to prevent revenue loss due to piracy, it sounds reasonable. However it seems to me that the content industry is trying to put unreasonable restrictions on the use of content by use of DRM. The current solutions (copy protection, DRM) are too restrictive.

I hope that the technology evolves enough in the coming years so that both sides get what they want.