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?