February 20, 2018

If It's Not Snake Oil, It's Pretty Awesome (Part 2)

Four years ago I wrote about a company called Music Public Broadcasting:

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Jon Healey writes about a new DRM proposal from a company called Music Public Broadcasting. The company’s claims, which are not substantiated in the story, give off a distinct aroma of snake oil.

I went on to document the snake oil indicators: (1) the flamboyant, self-promoting entrepreneur, newly arrived from another field; (2) the vaguely articulated theoretical breakthrough, described in mystical terms unintelligible to experts in the field; (3) the evidence that the product hadn’t been demonstrated or explained to its customers; (4) the claims to invalidate an accepted, fundamental principle in the field — but without really explaining how it is done. As one potential customer said, “If it’s not snake oil, it’s pretty awesome.”

Now the same company, having adopted a new name, is floating an equally improbable legal theory: that Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Real, and anybody else making music download tools is legally required to license the company’s technology. Their theory is that these target companies are “avoiding” the use of their anti-copying technology – avoiding it in the sense of not buying it – and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits avoidance of copy protection. In other words, the target companies have a legal obligation to buy the company’s technology and, on the same theory, any other technology that claims to stop infringement. Snake oil purchases are now mandatory.

If you believe this company’s legal claim is any more solid than its technical claim, I have a bridge to sell you – and let me assure you that you’re legally compelled to buy it.


  1. Wow. I think that we should all invent some really effective copy-protection technologies (I’ll start by patenting a hash based on quadruple rot-13 and an eight-fold perfect shuffle) and start suing the heck out of the RIAA for either using them without a license or circumventing them by failure to buy.

  2. It’s the DMCA equivalent of “patent trolling”. There’s probably some clause having to do with protecting assets somewhere in all the business contracts. And they’re hoping to find some group of lawyers to pay them off, on the theory that it’ll be cheaper than the paperwork of dealing with some *other* group of lawyers using the compay’s frivolous claims as part of legal maneuvering. Pretty blatant chutzpah

  3. I’ll take 1201(c)(3) for $200, Alex.

  4. Tom Poe says:

    The pharmaceutical company relies on proprietary automated clinical trials data collection systems to conduct and manage human clinical trials in applications for new drug approvals. It is well-documented that over 100,000 lives are lost each year to adverse side effects of drugs. Using a nonproprietary automated clinical trials data collection system would enable the FDA to regulate the industry at a level that diminishes or all but eliminates these needless deaths each year. The how and why is able to be clearly demonstrated in a court of law (as it has been demonstrated for the FDA). Should the pharmaceutical companies be required to shift their business model to utilize the nonproprietary automated clinical trials data collection system?

  5. Michael Donnelly says:

    Can’t buy better press for less. Nothing to be seen here.

  6. Jaakko I. Salomaa says:

    Hey, I would have some use for a nifty bridge.

  7. Anonymous says:

    EMI have today announced that they are going to launch their entire catalogue in DRM-free mp3 form through Amazon.com. Does that mean that they are circumventing DRM as well?

  8. In response to Tom : You are describing a system under which many people die if the wrong decision is made. In the RIAA world, the things that happen are : songs are “stolen”, artists are unpaid, mega-corps don’t become even more embarrassingly rich. Except for the last part, there is very little similarity between the music and pharm industries, although both rely on patent protection. It is still impractical to copy drugs over the internet (you could theoretically build a small-molecule compound one electron at a time, but it would be incredibly time consuming. You’d probably die before the first molecule was created).

    The FDA has a mandate to protect consumers. They have not been living up to their mandate, but if they had, then a non-proprietary, open system for submitting, testing, and verifying potential drugs would be something I would suspect should be mandatory — especially if standards of safety are universal.

    The snake-oil company is demanding that all sellers of music use their system, for a fee, no doubt, without any way of verifying that their DRM is “better” than existing systems of DRM. Their situation is hopelessly untenable. If they reveal their encryption scheme, they will either give away the golden goose, or they’ll be outed as frauds.

    A government, perhaps not this one, by default has to disclose.

  9. I think that the legal threats deomonstrate, if they demonstrate anything at all, that people that initiate absurd actions like that ought to be liable for the other sides costs plus punitive damages.

    I think it is pefectly clear that the only thing that DRM achieves (apart to fund a snake oil industry) is to prevent copying at the most rudimentary level by people who would try and copy using the OS tools, and give up when they failed.

    Incidently, I understand that Slysoft have announced today that a beta version of AnyDVD HD is now available which is capable of copying the first two post-revocation HD movies that have turned up early.

    If I were the movie studios, the next thing I would do would be to revert to good old fashioned values – and that would be to go back to the days when incompetent personnel were fired.

  10. Forget about how far fetched the whole legal theory is behind this action. What kind of lawyer would be wasting his valuable time getting this thing up to speed. Ever time a lawyer complains about their image they should be reminded of lawsuits like this one.

  11. “What kind of lawyer would be wasting his valuable time getting this thing up to speed.”

    I assume the sort that will entertain any flannel provided they are paid.

  12. I have my simple solution:
    No the profession of lawyer, no pain!