The Next Great Bad Idea: Why the 'celestial jukebox' won't work.
December 26, 2000 8:46 AM   Subscribe

The Next Great Bad Idea: Why the 'celestial jukebox' won't work. Courtesy of 37Signals Signal vs. Noise, this piece discusses just how big the obstacles are that the labels have to climb over to do it themselves.
posted by baylink (15 comments total)
Here's an interesting toy for you:

It's a device driver for Windows which installs in parallel with your sound card and provides digital output services. What it actually does is simply route what's sent to it to your actual sound card's digital output, but it also sends it to a disk file at the same time. (It puts an applet in the control panel to select the sound card and to select the disk file.)

It would be relatively easy to write, and would be able to capture music sent from ANY source whatever, in clear, without copy protection. It probably takes a lot of disk space per song because it's probably storing a WAV file -- but afterwards you use your favorite compressor and convert it to MP3 or something else. Then you've got it forever.

Nothing can defeat this. There is no form of copy protection which can prevent it, because it operates on the back side of the player software which must necessarily generate the music "in clear" so that it can be sent to the sound card. It looks to the player software like a sound card.

If any of these pay-to-listen services actually becomes real, expect some hobbyist to build this thing and release it for cheap or zero.

Its effect is to make the pay-to-play service into a pay-to-store service.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:30 AM on December 26, 2000

There are already such beasts. I remember reading about one that does exactly what you mention, but I can't recall its name. A quick Google:
  • Record AUDIO streams: here
  • Record VIDEO streams: here

    posted by costas at 10:41 AM on December 26, 2000

  • Steven, imagine a sound card with a public/private key combo. Data is encrypted by the provider and stays encrypted until it reaches the hardware. Your device driver couldn't touch it.

    Sure, there are ways around this, too.

    The thing is, there is *no* way to keep people from copying data. People probably will always keep trying to make it harder and harder, but it won't be 100% unless some *very* radical changes are made to computers.

    For example, these pay-to-play services would work fine if the receiver were a dumb terminal whose innards the user has zero access to, with nothing more than an ethernet jack and a power cord, speakers built-in.
    posted by whatnotever at 10:47 AM on December 26, 2000

    "there is no way to keep people from copying data"

    Well, as you yourself point out, end-to-end encryption that's decrypted on the hardware of the speakers or sound card would do it... and that's precisely where the military industrial complex... er, excuse me: the RIAA, MPAA, and the major hardware manufacturers would like to go.

    What I don't think they realize is that they just haven't even seen the beginning of how pissed off American's will get if the 'Corporate Police State' gets *that far* too big for it's britches.

    Napster has actually helped a lot on this front, by raising consciousness.
    posted by baylink at 12:27 PM on December 26, 2000

    As a side note to that article, the "industry" also plans to raise the fees (which are - correct me if I'm wrong - currently $300m a year) for streaming audio.
    posted by magnetbox at 12:33 PM on December 26, 2000

    So, in other words, the reason that this "Celestial Jukebox" can't happen is because the record labels are too stupid to put it together? Riiight.
    posted by ookamaka at 12:56 PM on December 26, 2000

    The hardware encryption reminds me of a story posted on slashdot recently about manufacturers adding copy-protection to the hard-drives themselves.

    it's unfortunate that we're beginning to be man-handled into doing what "they" think is right so that "they" can make more money.

    i suppose the future of computing is homemade hardware and private network connections. i'm beginning to see a cheesy, post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie coming into focus . . .
    posted by christian at 1:35 PM on December 26, 2000

    On this subject take a look at This Scheme intended to finally eliminate that awful time shifting that the media moguls fought so hard to prevent. I'd like to say that consumers will drive this down just as they did DIVX and the rest of it, but on just how many fronts can we continue to stand up to this coming barrage of attempts to subvert fair use? How many consumers will get that jazzy new digital cable and only then realize their VCRs are broken and need to be replaced? Sure, some will whine about it, but I suspect most will just go out and buy a new one.
    posted by willnot at 1:39 PM on December 26, 2000

    Some people actually did buy DivX players. Some people actually bought disks.

    But not enough did, and it died a well-deserved commercial death.

    Some people will buy those new VCRs. But when they get them home and find out that they can't be used to record most of the programs on the air, they're going to take them back and demand refunds. Word will spread and sales will plummet. It won't take long for the VCR manufacturers to decide that this idea cuts their own throat.

    posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:36 PM on December 26, 2000

    It won't take long for the VCR manufacturers to decide that this idea cuts their own throat.

    Steven - I'd love to be able to agree with you, but there's difference here. The shift isn't being driven by the VCR manufactures. It's being driven by a deal between the cable providers and the content providers. At least in the US, cable service is considered so important that even households that exist at or below poverty levels couldn't imagine giving cable up.

    Most cable companies have an effective monopoly in their areas of service. Sure, there are alternatives like satellite which I prefer and use. But, if you're in an apartment complex then it's basically cable or nothing.

    How many people are going to give up cable if their provider tells them effectively sorry, there's no going back to the old version of cable? The future is here and it's this or nothing.
    posted by willnot at 4:45 PM on December 26, 2000

    much of the legal hoo-hah seems related to the fact that the players are trying to do this by US rules (which have been heavily influenced by the labels themselves).

    what happens if -- when -- someone makes a jukebox offshore, in a place that doesn't give a damn about US law?

    posted by aurelian at 5:49 PM on December 26, 2000

    Copyright law is generally uniform in most of the world because it's controlled by the Berne Convention, of which the US is a signatory. Most other nations are also signatories. Of course, inevitably there will be some teeny island in the Caribbean or the South Pacific which is sovereign but not a signatory. But anyone involved in setting up such a system would instantly be criminally violating the copyright laws, and if they ever stepped foot in the US again (or any other place where the US has an extradition treaty) they'd be prosecuted. I don't think it would be quite as straightforward as you make it sound. Who wants to be an exile?
    posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:48 PM on December 26, 2000

    You know, just because someone creates a "Celestial Jukebox" offshore, that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily advertise who they are, you know? =P
    posted by ookamaka at 12:09 AM on December 27, 2000

    Just because someone creates a "Celestial Jukebox" offshore, that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily advertise who they are, you know? =P
    posted by ookamaka at 12:09 AM on December 27, 2000

    Oh, it'll get discovered. RIAA has a lot of money to pay detectives.
    posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:09 AM on December 27, 2000

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