AOL Updates Winamp After DRM Snafu

Facing pressure following reports that its Winamp media player enables copying of protected Napster To Go files, AOL has sprung into action.

The company has remotely disabled Windows Media Audio playback on current players, and will issue an updated version of Winamp that prohibits saving the output of WMA files.

Bypassing of Napster's digital rights management technology involves a low-tech scheme: re-recording the music as it plays.


Patient Winamp users were able to utilize an old plug-in to save the music stream directly from the sound card - resulting in a lower-quality, but unprotected song. AOL has since removed the plug-in from its Winamp Web site.

"Immediately upon discovering this flaw, we worked quickly to address it and to ensure that Winamp can continue to provide secure playback of Windows Media content," an AOL spokesperson told BetaNews. "A fix is being implemented in existing players and a new player will be posted for users to download."

Because AOL revoked its Windows Media license currently in use, the updated Winamp will be mandatory for those wishing to play WMA files.

Although the method for bypassing Napster To Go DRM isn't practical nor new, media outlets painted a bleak picture for the recently launched subscription service, citing "cracked" DRM. But several analysts quickly downplayed any significance. "Capturing a stream isn't the same as breaking the DRM," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

Releases of iTunes following the launch of Apple's online music store had the same capability with an external plug-in. And saving the output of protected iTunes music to a DRM-free format can still be accomplished using external applications such as Audio Hijack Pro.

"If there is a real piracy concern, consumers could more easily burn a protected song to CD and re-rip to MP3 than capture a stream and turn than that into a playable track," said Wilcox.

Fellow Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg blasted the media for its handling of the story. "This illustrates one of the biggest downsides of the Web (and blogging in particular) that all things from all sources are treated as fact and treated equally and get passed around fast," he said.

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