Does it Actually Matter that Napster was Hacked?

So it sounds like some one has already hacked the Microsoft Janus enabled Napster to Go service (as my colleague Josh Green blogged yesterday). One of the risks of portable rentals was always that some one could turn unlimited temporary files into unlimited permanent files. However in this instance it appears that a slightly less sophisticated approach has been used, recording the audio stream using a downloaded application.

And this is where we start seeing some of the inherent disconnects between digitally distributed music and CD and radio. People have always recorded from traditional music sources. Itís just part of consumersí way of enjoying music, some countries even have legislation enshrining the right of fair use personal copying. Even without software cracks, itís easy for anyone to record from their computer: all they need to do is plug an audio out from their computer and plug that into either a tape deck or another computer or other device which can record audio. Audio recording is just not something you can stop with DRM, at least not in any way that doesnít seriously detract from the user experience. So though Steve Jobs supposedly used the Napster hack to swipe at Napster, the iTunes Music Store model isnít safe either. Exactly the same can be done with paid for ITMS tracks. The difference of course is that you have to pay for each track rather than a flat fee for an unlimited amount.

Whatever fix may or may not be put in place, there will always be hackers out there busy working on the first crack. No DRM is fail-safe, nor will it ever be. The role of DRM, if it has to be there at all, should be to make it difficult enough to deter to majority from infringing, and I would argue that Napsterís DRM succeeds in that role.