Both the techie press and blogospheres have been filled with stories on Zune, Microsoft’s new digital player and best hope to cripple Apple’s hold on the market. Zune follows Redmond’s long tradition of arriving late to a market and trying to take on the early innovators, but I digress. Something that has been rather clear in a lot of the stories is that there is considerable confussion on exactly what is happening with the Zune DRM, and most importantly, with interoperability and interaction with other services.
What has raised a few eyebrows (and prompted derisive snorts, caused rolled-eyes and originated several other facial clichés) is the fact that Zune has had to create a new music store that can compete with iTunes. The problem with this is that Microsoft already has a music service used in other legal download stores such as Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo! This service is called PlayForSure, and it is a subscription-based DRM system that allows the user to play music as long as they remain under subscription, but that will stop playing the moment the service is discontinued. However, Zune will not play PlayForSure content, prompting many to point out the idiocy of technological protection measures.
Moreover, there have been grumblings regarding Zune’s viral infection of tunes with their own DRM as soon as the content is shared through a wireless service, and how this may infringe content under a Creative Commons licence. This made me pay attention, as I have 87 CC-licensed songs in my iPod. Microsoft’s idea here is that as soon as you share music with friends using Zune’s wireless service, the player will “infect” the songs with a DRM that will delete the song after three days. This would contravene CC licences that do not allow content to be shared with a TPM, and it would place restrictions in songs that are shared less restricively.
Although worrying, I must admit that I do not share the concerns of most of the techie blogosphere, perhaps because DRM does not make my blood boil as it does some other people. My problem here is that although I spend a large percentage of my money on the copyright industries (websites, books, DVDs and music), I have not yet found a single TPM protected work that I could not circumvent. Perhaps I’m not an average user, but that is precisely my point. What is the reason behind restrictive DRM, if they can be so easily circumvented by techno-geeks? Imagine a technically-challenged person who purchases a DRM protected CD and cannot play it in his/her computer. This person could just live with it, or phone her nearest geek friend, who will break the protection and allow her to enjoy the content. In fact, this seems to be what’s happening with existing DRM. As Stan Beer points out, there are 60 million iPods in the market and 1.5 billion iTunes, which translates into 25 iTunes tracks per iPod. This actually matches my own calculations (I’ve only bought close to 20 iTunes).
Where has all the other content come from?