Digital bits vs. Physical bits

A lot is said in the world of DRM arguments, and I’ve posted my thoughts on it in the past (I’m generally against the way DRM is applied much of the time, but I do understand the business case for DRM).

The Hacking Netflix blog (great reading) posted this article today that talked about the process to reset your DRM store in Windows, and how it may affect your previously licensed stuff.  It talks about the need to backup your existing DRM content:

There is a procedure to backup and restore your media licenses, but when’s the last time you thought to backup that movie you downloaded? Why is the burden on the consumer to do this?

Woah, there.  Why is the burden on the consumer to do this?  I’d argue that it’s for the same reason the burden is on you to back up physical media you bought.  You can’t go to Wal-Mart/Target/<insert your favorite store here> tell them you lost a copy of a movie, and expect them to give you a new copy.

(Yeah, yeah, I’m not going to espouse on the legal ramifications or legality of people backing up their own physical media).

Problem with the RIAA and Recording Industry

So I've been following all the Engadget and Gizmodo posts about the rumored Argo and Zune. One of the things that jumped out at me was this Engadget article that talked about the possibility that Microsoft would be allowing people to download whatever music they've purchased in iTunes for free — but that “Microsoft will still have to pay the rights-holders for the songs”. (Note that this was later refuted here on Gizmodo)

Whether or not it's true, I do think this points out a serious flaw with having multiple formats of proprietary DRM: you've paid for the song in one, but you can't get it in the others — even though you paid for the license to the song! I guess what you're paying for when you pay $0.99 in iTMS or any of the other content providers is a license to that song, using that service. Makes the “buy this song” links seem kind of like false advertising.

I've said before I have no problem with the concept of DRM, so long as it's done right; the current ways, however, aren't. This is one aspect that I think a unified approach that would work on multiple platforms would be a boon to consumers. I'm having this problem currently with the music that I've bought from iTMS since I sold my iPod in favor of a Toshiba Gigabeat S60. So far, I'm leaning towards (and have been checking out) for two months MTV's URGE music store subscriptions – so I can just re-download what music I had previously encountered in iTMS.

Amen, Chris Pirillo

Chris Pirillo has an excellent post which contains the following nugget:

Let me start out by saying that the blogosphere has to get over the whole “copyrights and trademarks are evil” jihad.

I've been thinking about this myself recently with regard to DRM music. I sold my iPod and bought a Toshiba Gigabeat S60 (more on why/how/WTF later). I've been researching the various music stores that work with PlaysForSure and reviews of them inevitably take the stance that DRM is inherently evil. I disagree, there's certainly a place and purpose for DRM, and I think portable music is one such experience. Should I disagree, I have the option of going to a store, buying a CD, and ripping it in the format I want. (The same people that think DRM is evil inevitably feel that CDs are also overpriced, which I do tend to agree with).

Sharing iTunes Libaries with Multiple Users in Windows XP

Diann & I have both had our iPods for quite some time now, and I've always had it setup where the iTunes libary is stored within my home directory. Kind of irritating, especially when she needed to update her iPod, I'd have to log in as me.

I realized today that someone out there must have solved the problem, and some quick searching on the Internet led me to this site. I'm not a big fan of the font they used (yeah, it's a normal font, but with so much text I found it hard to read!), so I'll replicate/paraphrase what they've written up here (names changed to make it more akin to my situation, some file locations changed to more adequately reflect how my system is setup, if you want the original, well, the link is just above):

Which means now we have two users on a Windows XP computer, both of whom want to use the same music library and such. So for folks in a similar boat, here's how you do it.

Note that I'm assuming you have Administrator rights on the computer (so you can get into everyone else's My Documents folders) and you know how to work command prompts and stuff…

  1. Go to SysInternals and download a copy of junction if you don't already have it. Put it somewhere in your path; you're going to need to use it from the command prompt later.
  2. Your music library (the file iTunes 4 Music Library.itl) is stored in your My Music\iTunes folder. Your actual music might be too. Point is, if you look in the C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents\My Music folder, you'll see a folder iTunes that contains all of that stuff. We need to centralize that. Move that folder to the Shared Music folder: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\My Music
  3. You now have all of your iTunes stuff in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\My Music\iTunes right? Cool. Now you have to link to it.
  4. Open a command prompt in your My Music folder.
  5. At the prompt, execute: junction iTunes "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\My Music\iTunes"
  6. You now have a hard link to the iTunes shared folder instead of a physical folder in your My Music folder. (Junction makes a sort of “shortcut” to other folders, but Windows thinks it's the real thing. That's how we're going to fool iTunes into allowing everyone to use the same iTunes library.) Repeat that command prompt “junction” action in all the other users' My Music folders who are going to share your iTunes library.
  7. Everyone who's sharing now has a junction to the shared iTunes folder, right? Now, have each user log in, one user at a time (not “switch users,” but actually have only one user logged in at a time) and open iTunes. They will all have to set up their own preferences (like their iTunes account, their shopping preferences, etc.) but they will all have access to the same music library and the same playlists.

That's it! You're done!

There are a couple of interesting caveats to note when working in this scenario. Some good, some not so good.

Since you're all sharing the same library and ratings are stored in the library, if one person changes ratings, they get changed for everyone. If you're anal like me, that means you'll tell everyone else not to rate anything. Hopefully Diann won't make all our U2 music 5 stars anytime soon.

This setup does allow all of you to automatically sync your iPods with individual settings. So I can sync my iPod with playlists X, Y, Z and Diann can sync hers automatically with playlists A, B, C. No problems there.

You can't have multiple users simultaneously logged in and using iTunes. That includes the “fast user switching” thing Windows XP provides. If one person is using iTunes, no one else can be using iTunes on that computer.

Important Note: These instructions are for Windows XP. If you're on a different OS/version, you're going to have to adapt paths accordingly. Also, I've only ever run any of this with an account that has Administrator privileges. If you're trying to get this working with limited accounts, you're on your own. All instructions here are provided for your unsupported use and at your own risk. Because, well… “it works for me.”

Regarding that last note, it seems to work as a standard user account as well. That's because the Shared Music folder has Everyone/Everything permissions by default. Ahh happiness, now I can just plug in an iPod and get it to sync without worrying about who is logged in!

UPDATE: Updated to reflect that you do have to put quotes in the junction command.