The analog gap

Published on 2024-03-01

I remember a while back, I was making a music compilation for some of my friends. There was this song we used to really enjoy: Klô Pelgag's cover of Demain L'hiver by Robert Charlebois. It's kind of hard to find, these days. It was produced for a podcast about Robert Charlebois by the CBC a few years back. It used to be on Spotify, and then one day, for one licensing reason or another, it disappeared. I really wanted to include it in my compilation, so I went digging.

After a while, I found the podcast in which it originally aired, archived on the CBC's website. Unfortunately, I didn't have the option to download it.

I had two options:

The first, which I do sometimes when I'm really desperate, is to start poking around in the network tab of my browser's developer settings. Sometimes, by making a good educated guess about where the file's being streamed from, you can trick the server into sending you the complete MP3 file.

The second option, easier but more tedious, is to open Audacity, set the "input" device to the "output" of my computer, and then hit record.

When I was a kid we were definitely on the tail end of cassettes being relevant, but my parents were still really into them. They taught me how to record my own mixtapes, namely, by waiting for a song to come on the radio, hitting the record button, and then hitting stop when it was over. It was a bit challenging to get a good recording, without the MC's annoying voice over, or the tail end of it being mixed together with whatever song they were playing next, but maybe that added to the authenticity. Such mistakes served as a reminder that the tape was recorded by a Real Person, and not manufactured by a company.

Conceptually, the "recording the radio" approach to piracy never really went away, and that's because of the analog gap: no matter how much DRM you apply to a piece of media, once it hits the airwaves, it's DRM-free. Our brains cannot (yet?) process encrypted media; you've got to decrypt it at some point before we can perceive it.

As such, there will always be at least one way to break DRM, and it'll feel a lot like taping songs off the radio.

I never felt seriously worried about the onslaught of DRM, mostly because of this. DRM exists only on a best-effort basis. It's scary, as someone seriously concerned about copyright law and the affects it has on the accessibility of the things we create, but there will always be a way to break it.

Respond to this article

If you have thoughts you'd like to share, send me an email!

See here for ways to reach out