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Feedback on the CDDB
By MusicDish
(more articles from this author)
2000-05-30
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Send us your feedback to editor@musicdish.com

I found it [CDDB] a ripoff, and am trying to convince a company that I'm investing in to dump it for an alternative that doesn't apply proprietary terms to the work done by tens of thousands of volunteers. In particular, commercial use of the database requires that you swear not to use any of their competitors. And charges fees for use. And won't let you have the entire database yourself. Personally I'm advocating the use of freedb.org, which is the same thing, re-collected from the consumers who typed it in the first time, but released under the GNU Public License so it can't be stolen from those consumers a second time. I would hope that MusicDish would advocate alternatives like freedb rather than CDDB; if more people used it, it would fill up faster, and the proprietary CDDB would be history.

www.Freedb.org is a much better option than CDDB. It's already used by default in six or eight applications, and many others can be reconfigured to use it. It uses the same protocol as the original CDDB servers, and puts no restrictions on what you can do with the data, how to build your applications, or anything else (except that like all information under the GNU General Public License, if you make improved versions available, they must come without restrictions on who can further use and distribute them). The information in the database is owned by the people who submitted the entries -- not by the central collecting site. FreeDB has 148,000 albums today, rather than the 580,000 in CDDB. It will catch up quickly, if people simply switch to contributing to IT rather than to CDDB.

What's happened here is that the vast collection of CDDB contributions by well-meaning individuals has been taken proprietary by greedheads, who are now using those contributions to become the monopoly provider of automated information about CD's. So they can sell consumers' private information to advertisers.

The original CDDB database was released under the GNU General Public License, which allows anyone to use it for any non-proprietary purpose, without control or royalties to the originator. Somehow the people at the center, collecting the data, stopped releasing it under free terms. My guess is that they claimed ownership of the data, offered a second license on which it could be accessed, and then stopped publishing the GNU licensed version themselves. Any new contributions became proprietary to CDDB.

CDDB requires people to sign licenses in order to build applications that can access the database. These licenses exert massive control over the user experience and over the competitive options available to the application developer.

I just checked the CDDB web site (www.cddb.com) and looked at their license agreement and "checklist" for applications that use it. They have stopped issuing licenses for use of the existing "CDDB 1" database. All new applications are required to access the "CDDB 2" database, using a proprietary protocol, so that free replacements are harder to build. And the only platform supported by CDDB 2 is Windows.

Clearly the CDDB has been taken over by marketing types. The new license requires that EVERY end-user "register" with the database so that CDDB can track their accesses, sell the info to marketing companies, supply targeted ads, and send them email. ("The registration data collected is only used to improve the user experience with the service." Then why isn't it the user's option to pick what level of "servicing" they desire?)

The license requires that the CDDB logo or name be displayed for two seconds (or more) every time the database is accessed. It has three pages of "checklist" that CDDB personnel will validate before they permit your application to access the database -- and everything on the list is the marketing and licensing crap that applications are required to do in order to be granted access to the database. And of course it prohibits any such application from accessing *any other* CD information database, or via any other intermediate service like what Real was doing.

They've learned from the Real Networks player-privacy debacle: that information about which CD everyone is playing right now is VALUABLE and they're grabbing for it with every legal lever and every market edge they've got.

As their FAQ says: "Lastly, the new service will offer a number of revenue-generating opportunities for developers of CDDB-enabled applications. The new service accommodates the delivery of links, promotions, and content related to CD music. Marketers and retailers wishing to interact with music consumers can do so via the CDDB2 network when authorized by an application. CDDB will offer participation to developers in revenues created within the CDDB network."

A week ago they announced that "Link Delivery Services" are "fully available to the marketplace". The deal is that people can pay CDDB to show ads that can be targeted to people who are currently playing specific CD's or songs.

And it's always "free to end users", to encourage those contributions to keep rolling in, to cement their monopoly.

Developers can break this monopoly by using a different service by default, allowing the end-user to change what service the application uses, and refusing to sign CDDB's license agreement. End-users can break this monopoly by reconfiguring or patching their applications to access a different service than CDDB.

References:
http://www.freedb.org
http://www.cddb.com

FAQ on CDDB licensing:
http://www.cddb.com/dev/faq.html/page=all

Checklist of marketing requirements for new applications:
http://www.cddb.com/dev/LicenseeChecklist1-2-00125.pdf

The license agreement itself isn't publicly visible -- you have to enter your own identification in order to see it -- but you can type gibberish at it, and it takes you to the second URL below, where the license and the Windows interface description are available:
http://www.cddb.com/dev/licensing.html
http://www.cddb.com/xm/cddb2lic

John Gilmore (EFF)


I especially found it interesting that Gilmore calls CDDB a monopoly, considering that a.) it is free and b.) he points out it has been reverse engineered and a "free-er" alternative is available. I suspect Gilmore's real problem with CDDB is that they attempt to collect user data, but come on, who ever enters their real name/email address into those types of registration forms? And there are lots of web (and non-web) companies based on the premise of a monetarily free service in exchange for personal information. Those who are paranoid about privacy can always enter their own CD info on their own computer, or develop and support their own system (like freedb) that is run however they want.

Here is perhaps a more tangible analogy. P&G takes thousands of phone calls a day from consumers accepting comments/suggestions/etc (free submissions to P&G involving some effort on the part of the consumer). P&G turns around and turns that information into products that we sell. We don't say to our competitors, "hey, here is this great stuff we just learned from our consumers. Why don't you have it too". We make them at least reverse engineer it or collect the info themselves. Thats just the way the system works. The information is out there for the taking, but the company that goes to the effort of running the collecting of that information shouldn't be prevented from profiting.

just my thoughts,

Jay Lickfett

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