Got ’em with a fax-back!

So, Caress tells me a story today about how her co-workers don’t trust her. For background, she works at a security alarm company. For security reasons I can’t name the company, lets just say it is a pretty big security franchise that rhymes with steamroll if you get really drunk.

Anyway, it fell on Caress’s shoulders to order new electronic door passes for a customer. To do this she had to contact the parent office in a nearby city and have them make the passes and send them to her. She also asked for a list of the new pass codes (numbers) and who each code was to be assigned to (so she could make sure the right people get the right pass).

One employee at the parent office who we’ll simply call Ms. Bee took Caress’s issue, and then faxed her the requested list of codes.

Later another person at the parent office, who we’ll call Jewel, came to the conclusion that Caress shouldn’t be allowed access to those codes because she isn’t certified in North Carolina (where the parent office is located).

Never mind that Caress is certified in South Carolina where her office and the customer are both located. These details are not directly relevant to the story.

So… anyway, Jewel calls Caress up and says something very much like this:

“You shouldn’t have those codes, so I’m going to have to ask you to fax them back to me.”

Of course, Caress must not have been on her game today because her reply was:

“I’m going to make a copy first”

DRM doesn’t whip the Llama’s ass

I recently had occasion to deal with a DRM protected music file.

Now, I personally make it a policy not to purchase DRM protected content as a general rule. It isn’t because I want to be able to copy a song and give it out to millions of people for free, nor because I object to big brother watching over my shoulder to see if I have “permission“ to do what I’m doing (though that does bother me quite a lot). It’s mostly just because DRM protected files don’t give me what I want.

When I buy music, I want to be able to play it on any device, anywhere, without having to jump through hoops and ask the person who supposedly “sold” it to me if I might copy it to a CD or to my portable music player, pretty please! I also don’t want to have to bother with copying a single instance of a song out and back from one device to another each time that I want to listen to it on another player like some DRM schemes require. I want to have a copy on each player I might possibly use and be done with it. And I really don’t like the way current DRM schemes allow some record company the right to change what I’m allowed to do anytime they wish, with my computer just blindly going along with whatever they decide.

So… Fuck DRM, that’s what I say!

And come to think of it, this notion that I didn’t really “buy“ the music, that I just paid for a “license“ to listen to it… that’s total horse-shit too! I paid for a copy of the song. The way I see it, I own that copy. I don’t so much care that the law doesn’t see it that way, that’s how I see it. It’s my fucking CD, WMA, or MP3 that I paid for so if I want to copy it, translate it into another format, or jam it up my ass sideways; well, that’s my business. Sure, it is illegal to give copies to all my friends, but if I choose to do that and get caught you can come and sue me for it. That’s fine. But what I can’t stomach is when the record companies set it up so that that *my* computer is supposed to stop me from copying music just because I *might* break a law. Or even worse, expect that my computer should inform the authorities if and when I do decide to break a law.

I’ll tell you what! I’ll license you this dollar in exchange for you licensing me that song. But under the terms of my license, you may not give or loan the dollar to anyone else, nor can you exchange the dollar for another currency. And while I’m at it, you have to ask me before you transfer that dollar from one bank account to another so that I can make sure you aren’t doing something I don’t like with my dollar, like gaining interest on it (the closest money equivalent to copying). And I also reserve the right to change what you are allowed to do with my dollar whenever I want to, or I can revoke your license to my dollar at any time for any reason at all, at which time you must destroy the dollar or return it to me. That sounds fair doesn’t it?

But anyway, about the file… Kelly decided to buy from an online music store. She did this because the artist that wrote this one song doesn’t write anything else anyone could possibly want to bother with (and I’m not too sure about this particular song either), so purchasing the entire CD was a bit expensive when you can just buy the one song online for under a dollar.

The file is, of course, a DRM protected WMA file.

Ah! A challenge!

I might not like the song that much, and I certainly didn’t want a copy on my own system, but  I decided  that I was going to circumvent the copy protection in direct violation of the DMCA (sue me!) so that I can exercise Kelly’s fair use rights (if they still exist) and copy the song as an MP3 file.

Of course I had no idea how to do this, me having no experience with DRM files and all, but I expected a quick google search would turn up a ripper in no time. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than I would have thought. There were a couple of commercial products that people on several forms claimed would do the trick. However, in most of these same forums, other people claimed that the product didn’t work, or only worked with older DRM formats. I wasn’t feeling like wasting $20 – $100 per application just to see if it might rip the $1 file I had. Most people in the forums suggested just playing the WMA file and using the sound card to re-record it in anther format. This sounded bothersome to me and I lacked the proper software for this option; besides many people indicated that this option often results in noticeable loss of quality.

Eventually though, I came across a particularly interesting forum where a user pointed out that the popular MP3 player Winamp could be used to convert the WMA into a standard WAV file (which of course then means that it would be trivial to convert the WAV to an MP3 later). Surprise! Winamp does have a way to do this. All you have to do is go into Winamp’s options –> preferences, then go to the Output section and select the Nullsoft disk writer plug-in. After that, when you play the song in Winamp, instead of playing in the speakers, it plays the file into a WAV file that it jams a copy onto your hard drive. It is a slow process, and you can’t hear the song while it is being played into a file… but it works great! I’m sure it wasn’t the intended use of this feature to violate the DMCA by allowing Winamp to violate DRM (considering the feature is older than most DRM schemes anyway), but I’m glad it does so. Sure beats playing inspector gadget looking for a ripper.