Sunday, April 29, 2007

The RIAA and Wimpy WiFi - Part 1

I've talked before about the fundamental disconnect between the RIAA and music consumers. Instead of responding to market demands and profiting from providing customers with what they want, the major labels keep trying to push customers back into buying patterns they've long since abandoned.

For many consumers, WiFi capability is the next logical step for MP3 players. The expectation was that a WiFi-enabled MP3 player would have similar capabilities to a cellphone, or a laptop. That is, access through hotspots, the ability to send files back and forth to other WiFi-enabled devices, perhaps the ability to sync wirelessly.

Enter the Microsoft Zune -- a digital music player with wireless capability. But the major labels had something to say about that. The result was a device crippled almost to uselessness by Digital Rights Management (DRM) -- and a system that rigorously protects the property of the major labels while trampling the rights of others.

Is the Zune wireless? Technically, but Zunes can only communicate wirelessly with other Zunes (that's what "Welcome to the social" refers to -- we'll save the discussion about referencing early 2oth century church ice cream socials in a misguided attempt at hipster coolness for another day). A far cry from true WiFi.

And while you can transfer songs from one Zune to another, the process adds DRM to the file. Send a song to a friend and they can listen to the track three times before it automatically disables itself -- and they better listen promptly, because the track self-destructs after three days whether its played or not.

This was about the only way the major labels would let Microsoft have any kind of wireless capability. But the problem is that this DRM is added to everything transferred from one Zune another. DRM-free songs bands post on their website for fans to share gets this DRM added, even though the bands are against DRM. Podcasts issued with creative commons licenses get this DRM added -- in violation of the terms of use of the creative commons license.

The RIAA has been happy to sue anyone and everyone who crosses their path. Wouldn't it be interesting if creative commons licensors collectively brought suit against the Zune's violation of their rights?

- Ralph

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