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Home / Technology / The Audiophile MQA format does not really have DRM, but it does not mean it's not on the toxic rainbow of locked tech / Boing Boing

The Audiophile MQA format does not really have DRM, but it does not mean it's not on the toxic rainbow of locked tech / Boing Boing



After seeing a CCC presentation claiming that the MQA audio file format has "stealth DRM," I decided to investigate and I'm pretty sure MQA is not DRM.

But MQA is proprietary in several important ways that audio files should consider before investing in technology. Its overlapping patents combined with extreme secrecy about the terms for which the format is licensed means that you must rely on the long-term good decisions of the manufacturer to ensure that you can always buy a device that can play music you buy – and because the specification and the contracts To implement it's a secret, it's hard to get good data to assess if your trust is well placed.

The MQA story is a good lesson in the poisonous rainbow of locked technology: the way that overlapping patents, trademarks, license agreements, copyrights, business secrets and DRM can make it legally unsafe to exert the freedoms that good software should come with: the freedom to to run programs, to study them, to improve them, and to share your improvements.

So the recipe is that MQA is patented, includes copyrighted code, terms of use and business secrets, but (probably) not DRM. That means that your ability to enjoy the MQA music you buy is entirely up to the company's mercy, which can change the format at a later date and allow manufacturers to continue supporting the music you have purchased.

Your decision to trust the company can not be informed of openness in its license terms, either: perhaps the company has promised its licensees that it would never force them to redeem your music ̵

1; and maybe not. It can easily prove this in one way or another, but it will not and while the company claims that this is a widespread practice in its industry, it is certainly not common practice in any of the other sounds (or other media) you are likely to own.

But MQA does not contain (currently) DRM, and that means something. You can revise an MQA player and report freely about the shortcomings found there. You can reformat the file format and publish it, and you can investigate patents and find ways to decode and replay files that do not overlap MQA's patents. And more importantly, any problems you face with MQA are far more likely to be civil matter than a crime. You may be sued by MQA to try to open the format, but you may not be threatened with a prison sentence.

MQA touts are "proprietary" nature and patent portfolio as a reason to buy technology, so it's a fair assumption that these do not bother most customers. You can not make the same choice, but that disagreement is less urgent than it would be if DRM was in the picture: it's a thing to buy a product someone else thinks is a bad investment, but there's another hero to leave it digital security of a product that can only be revised with the permission of the manufacturer.


Closed, Proprietary, Felonious: The Toxic Rainbow of Locked Technology
[Cory Doctorow/EFF Deeplinks]

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Cory Doctorow

I am writing books. My last one is: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); A non-fiction book about art and the Internet called information will not be free: the laws of the Internet age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (this is the sequel to the younger brother). I'm talking about everything, and I tweet and thumb too.

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