June 24, 2024

WaPo Confused On CD-DRM

Today’s Washington Post runs an odd, self-rebutting story about the sales of the copy-protected Anthony Hamilton CD – the same CD that Alex Halderman wrote about, leading to SunnComm’s on-again, off-again lawsuit threat.

The article begins by saying that the CD’s sales had an unusually small post-release drop-off in sales. Sales fell 23% in the first week, where 40-60% is more typical. There are several reasons this might have happened: the album was heavily promoted, it was priced at $13.98, and it had good word of mouth. But the article tries to argue that the SunnComm DRM technology was a big part of the cause.

The article proceeds to rebut its own argument, by undercutting any mechanism by which the DRM could have reduced copying. Did the DRM keep the music off peer-to-peer networks? No. “Songs from Hamilton’s CD appeared on unauthorized song-sharing Internet services, such as Kazaa, before the release date…” Did the DRM keep people from making CD-to-CD copies? No. “Though buyers of the Hamilton CD are allowed to make three copies, nothing prevents them from copying the copied CDs”

Was the DRM unobtrusive? Here the reporter seems to misread one of the Amazon reviews, implying that the reviewer preferred DRM to non-DRM discs:

“I give this CD four stars only because of the copyright protection,” wrote one reviewer. “This CD didn’t play too well on my computer until I downloaded some kind of license agreement, and was connected to the Internet. Otherwise, it’s very good.”

It should be clear enough from this quote (and if you’re not sure, go read the full review on Amazon) that this reviewer saw the DRM as a negative. And at least two other reviewers at Amazon say flatly that the CD did not work in their players.

The topper, though, is the last paragraph, which shows a reporter or editor asleep at the switch:

A Princeton University graduate student distributed a paper on the Internet shortly after the CD’s release demonstrating, he argued, how the copy-protection could be broken. But Jacobs, who initially threatened to sue the student before backing off, said his technology is meant to thwart casual copying, not determined hackers.

What’s with the “he argued”? The claims in the student’s paper are factual in nature, and could easily have been checked. SunnComm even admits that the claims are accurate.

And how can the reporter let pass the statement by Jacobs implying that only “determined hackers” would be able to thwart the technology? We’re talking about pressing the shift key, which is hardly beyond the capabilities of casual users.

We’ve come to expect this kind of distortion from SunnComm’s press releases. Why are we reading it in the Washington Post?


  1. Ulrike Norbert says

    Sorry. Link to Afterdawn.com posts


  2. Ulrike Norbert says

    Just a related item to an earler thread on Freedom to Tinker by Edward Felten re SunnComm. SunnComm, in a PR, gave the reason for not suing Halderman as:

    “Because SunnComm is, itself, a company which relies on research and development for its survival, we feel that bringing legal action for damages against researchers in a higher learning environment may contribute to a chilling effect on the type of research that faculty, staff, and students elect to pursue. Therefore, we´ve decided to move along and not pursue legal remedies in deference to “the bigger picture.” SunnComm directors and employees feel that research plays an incredibly vital role at SunnComm and in our society, and we need to do everything we can to nurture it.””


    But laudable as this reason appears, it is not the real reason according to this SunnComm employee (CdMnky) posting on Afterdawn.com

    “btw, he didn’t get sued, we decided not to go after him, and not because of the shift key, but because ultimately, the media’s ‘spin’ would eventually become bigger (and badder) than the actual inital problem.”

    And how do we reconcile the SunnComm employee posting on that message board, with Jacob’s statement on Investorshub from just one week prior.

    “I’m no longer allowed to answer questions on message boards anymore, nor does any employee of SunnComm contribute to any message board.”


    Honesty doesn’t look like one of their traits and they have the nerve to accuse Halderman of needing lessons in morality.

    “Halderman is purposely mis-directing the debate, and, by doing so, stoops to a level far below that of his adversaries. The ends NEVER justify the means. I think he´s had enough computer science classes. He needs some time in morality class.”


  3. This story was probably planted by BMG. Reading the first paragraph should be enough to tell you this. The authors of planted stories rarely take the time to examine all sides of an issue, which makes them attractive for planted stories and exclusives.

    If you’re unfamiliar with the process of planting, basically someone (associated with marketing or PR) calls one of their friends at the WAPO and pitches them on a story. The pitch is designed to make the story attractive to their reader base and a unique opportunity for WAPO.

    This process happens every day. MSFT is notorious for this with everything from tech publications to WAPO to the Wall Street Journal.

  4. “What’s with the “he argued”? The claims in the student’s paper are factual in nature, and could easily have been checked. SunnComm even admits that the claims are accurate.”

    Journalists think very differently from tech people. To oversimplify, there are no facts in US journalism-land, only political positions “argued” by opposing factions.

    Good joke about this at: “Paul Krugman and Lies”

    “If the Republicans said the earth is flat, Fox News would report (he says) The Earth is Flat, and people who say it isn’t are unpatriotic. Then he says the other press would report Shape of the Planet: Two Sides to the Debate, and would quote Republicans saying it’s flat, and Democrats saying it’s round.”

  5. Chris Tunnell says

    The problem with these columnists is that they are reporting from outside of the computer world. From just talking with others, the image of the people against it is of an unscrupulous teenager. Most non-kazaa users only hear what the news says, so what we are missing is a means of public relations.

  6. John Hartman says

    If the copy management software is effective, and making illegal copies is prevalent, and their “informal research” is meaningful, then I would expect significant customer dissatisfaction with the software. The article states that the research didn’t show this, so one or more of the above must not hold. It’s probably the research, but they do refer to it in the article so they must have some faith in it. If not, then I conclude that the copy management software has had no impact on copying and therefore sales. Either way, I don’t think they’ve supported their opinion that the software has increased sales.

  7. Paul M Johnson says

    Well I read the Washington Post because it is a local paper. But this story is fairly typical of the declining quality in the paper that I have notice in the last year.