Keep MyTunes to Yourself, Bill

Thursday, 2003-11-13; 18:01:00

The news about MyTunes is overhyped

(Originally posted on AppleXnet)

"[A]n independent software developer has released a program called MyTunes that allows people to share and download each other's MP3s on a network via iTunes," Slashdot recently reported. News flash: this isn't a big deal, and it doesn't deserve a front page news item on Slashdot. Software analagous to MyTunes has been out for the Mac ever since iTunes 4.0 was released in April of this year (itunesdl, iBug, etc.). Now someone has finally created similar software for Windows, after iTunes for Windows was released a few weeks ago.

Basically what the software does is this: it takes advantage of the shared music feature that comes with iTunes that streams music across a local network to your machine. MyTunes simply saves this stream to your hard disk. That's it: nothing special.

Here's the catch: You must be able to stream the music. And guess what? To play music that was downloaded from the iTunes Music Store (which uses protected AAC files), you have to authorize your computer to play that music, even if you're trying to stream it from another computer. That means that MyTunes can do nothing with these protected AAC files. Sure, you could always burn your protected AAC files to CD and then rip them again, resulting in a loss of quality and freedom from FairPlay DRM. But that's a hassle, and requires using a CD, which not all people want or can do.

So why is it news that MyTunes has come out? Sure, you can now copy unprotected files from other people's computers on Windows, too. But I don't think Apple will be worried. That's because the files were already unprotected, so they could have been shared anyway. This "new" program can do nothing to circumvent DRM protection on iTunes Music Store files. Furthermore, you have to be on the local network to be able to stream the music anyway. A relatively small segment of the population will live or work in a setting where many people are using iTunes AND where iTunes sharing is allowed (my guess is that many workplaces will probably prohibit file sharing due to legal or bandwidth issues once they see a lot of activity on port 3689, which iTunes uses for sharing music files). The only change is that now all iTunes users can easily copy and play unprotected music files -- whereas before Windows users only had to go through a couple more steps. Big whoop.

But I bring this issue up because I want to make something clear to Bill Zeller, the creator of MyTunes, and other software developers: if you want to make a potentially illegal program that exploits a feature in software like iTunes, keep the software to yourself if you have to make it. It will save us all a good deal of hassle. You will be able to do whatever you want with the program, and the software developer won't have to disable a feature because of your decision.

I have to question the motives of a software developer who makes a program for which there is little possible legal use, and then posts a disclaimer that only people who "plan on acting responsibly" should download the software. Bill Zeller, I'm looking at you. If you use MyTunes at all, are you acting responsibly? Probably not, because you'd be downloading someone else's music, which you don't have the right to do. If you were downloading your own music, you could just copy the file yourself without having to stream it. Also, do you really think that people who plan on infringing upon copyrights are NOT going to download your software, Bill? Are you that naive to think that everybody in the world is going to heed your disclaimer for a piece of software that already has little legal purpose? Or maybe you're a victim of playlistism and want to get revenge on Apple for making such a cool feature?

The other question is that if you can stream the music, why don't you just keep on streaming the music? Is there some fundamental problem with not having the music on your hard drive -- do the bits sound different if you actually have to stream the music? It's likely that if there's a shared library in your vincinity, then it's not going to go away the next day, so you can keep on streaming that song every day. If you really want the piece of music on your hard drive, why don't you just get your lazy butt off of your chair, walk over to where the other person is, and ask if you can have the music file? After all, iTunes can only share music over the local network and not over the internet. Doing this would still be infringing upon copyrights, though.

Seriously, Bill, it's developers like you who force companies to disable innovative features in software like iTunes. Remember iTunes 4.0, and how people actually COULD share your music to anyone on the internet? That feature got disabled as a direct result of developers like you, Bill. Someone had to go and make software that downloads music from someone across the internet. And someone else had to set up a website dedicated to publicizing shared music libraries when Apple clearly stated that music sharing is for personal use only (when you enable music sharing for the first time, a dialog comes up that says as much). Thanks, Bill and kin, for shutting down a useful feature. Now people who legitimately want to share their music over the internet can't do so (i.e.: people who want to listen to their home music at work).

Of course, I'm probably being naive in thinking that developers like you, Bill, will heed my call and not distribute such software. I'm just frustrated that you had to go and release MyTunes, and spur a wave of sensational headlines over a "flaw" that existed in iTunes from the day when the iTunes Music Store was first unveiled. And I'm also frustrated because I don't understand why developers do such things. The person who first developed the stream recorder for the Mac closed off a useful feature even for himself! Is that what the developer wanted.. to not be able to use the iTunes 4.0 internet sharing feature? Because that result was all but inevitable, given that we're dealing with the draconian RIAA and a computer company that doesn't want to get on the RIAA's bad side.

Bill: clearly you have potential when it comes to programming. I'd suggest you do something else with your time than create software like MyTunes. As I've pointed out, your software has little legal use and at the same time has the potential to deliver a blow to fair use features such as music sharing in iTunes. Although Apple is unlikely to disable this iTunes feature entirely, we (including you) still would all be better off if you kept such malicious software to yourself.

Oh, and Bill? One last question. Why do you call your software "MyTunes"? It really isn't your music that you're saving to the hard drive, now is it? Funny, that.

-- simX

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