February 16, 2005

Copy Protection Bypass

Portable Napster turning into a free-for-all

Users Bypass Copy Protection on Portable Napster

Tue Feb 15, 2:20 PM ET

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By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Users have found a way to skirt copy protection on Napster (news - web sites) Inc.'s (Nasdaq:NAPS - news) portable music subscription service just days after its high-profile launch, potentially letting them make CDs with hundreds of thousands of songs for free.

Such users are already providing instructions to other would-be song burners through technology Web sites like BoingBoing. (http://www.boingboing.net)

Napster is currently offering a free trial of its new Napster To Go service, which will enable users for a monthly $15 fee to download as much music as they want and transfer it to a portable device. They can also pay 99 cents for each track they want to burn to a CD.

That "rental" model for digital entertainment, backed by giant software concern Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) and others, is getting its most serious mass-market tryout yet with Napster to Go.

But, according to various Web sites, thwarting the intellectual property protections of the service is as easy as a free software patch.

Engadget.com said by installing the digital music program Winamp and then adding a secondary program to Winamp called Output Stacker, users could convert the digitally protected files from one format to another that can then be burned, unencumbered, onto CDs.

"We're not going to advise you to do anything untoward, but apparently if you install Winamp along with the Output Stacker plug-in you can convert those protected WMA files to WAV files and then burn them to CD without paying a penny. Or at least an extra penny," Engadget.com said in an item on its site.

A spokeswoman for Napster said that such endeavors were nothing new and the company was not too concerned.

"The DRM (digital rights management) is intact. Basically, people are just recording off a sound card. This is nothing new and people could do this with any legitimate service if they want to use a sound card," she said.

"This kind of attack has been around for a long time and it's just because of our higher profile that it has sparked such interest," she said.

She said the company had no record of who was doing the illicit recording.

"The bottom line is that people are always going to find a way to get around the system, although we give people a way to enjoy music while respecting artists' rights," she said.


The "new" Napster has positioned itself as the chief competitor to Apple Computer Inc.'s (Nasdaq:AAPL - news) iTunes service, which dominates the digital download market.

The original Napster was a free-for-all that let millions of users download and share songs for free -- before the music industry forced it into bankruptcy with successful legal challenges.

American Technology Research analyst PJ McNealy said that no matter how protected a music file is, you can capture the output and save it on the hard drive.

"Now, portable subscriptions are a bigger bullseye or goal for people," he said.

Napster unveiled the portable subscription earlier this month, backed by a $30 million ad campaign attacking rival Apple's iTunes service and its ubiquitous iPod digital music player.

Until recently, music subscription services have been somewhat restricted in their ability to transfer songs they provide to portable players, while Apple has sold millions of portable iPods by allowing users to buy songs from iTunes and store them on iPods.

But Napster uses a new digital rights management software from Microsoft called Janus to enable the portable transfers.

Posted by Craig at February 16, 2005 02:39 AM