EFF on Zune: Risk of DRM/DMCA checkmate no longer a risk. It's reality

Summary:By way of Cory Doctorow, comes a pointer to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's take on Microsoft's new Zune: a brand that has broken ranks with the Redmond-based company's previous digital rights management (DRM) strategy that attempted to establish an ecosystem of compatibility (under the name "PlaysForSure") between content merchants (ie: AOL, Yahoo, Amazon, etc.), the copy protection on the content they sold, and the software and devices that could play that content.

By way of Cory Doctorow, comes a pointer to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's take on Microsoft's new Zune: a brand that has broken ranks with the Redmond-based company's previous digital rights management (DRM) strategy that attempted to establish an ecosystem of compatibility (under the name "PlaysForSure") between content merchants (ie: AOL, Yahoo, Amazon, etc.), the copy protection on the content they sold, and the software and devices that could play that content. 

Critics of DRM (including me) have long warned of the risks of strategy, policy, and technology shifts amongst the various DRM stakeholders (technology companies, entertainment companies, copyright holders, etc.): namely that consumers could wake up one morning to learn that the rules regarding legal playback of their content investments (audio, video, images, etc.) may have changed to the point that they'll probably have to, at some point,M re-buy their favorite music and video all over again. In the US, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has, with few exceptions (none of which apply here), outlawed circumvention of content copy protection. So, with Microsoft's Zune, now comes proof that these were not Chicken Little warnings.  Wrote the EFF's Derek Slater:

Microsoft's Zune will not play protected Windows Media Audio and Video purchased or "rented" from Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited, Movielink, Cinemanow, or any other online media service. That's right -- the media that Microsoft promised would Play For Sure doesn't even play on Microsoft's own device. Buried in footnote 4 of its press release, Microsoft clearly states that "Zune software can import audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264" -- protected WMA and WMV (not to mention iTunes DRMed AAC) are conspicuously absent.......

.....This is a stark example of DRM under the DMCA giving customers a raw deal. Buying DRMed media means you're locked into the limited array of devices that vendors say you can use. You have to rebuy your preexisting DRMed media collection if you want to use it on the Zune. And you'll have to do that over and over again whenever a new, incompatible device with innovative features blows existing players out of the water....

....The real culprit here is the DMCA -- but for that bad law, customers could legally convert DRMed files into whatever format they want, and tech creators would be free to reverse engineer the DRM to create compatible devices. Even though those acts have traditionally been and still are non-infringing, the DMCA makes them illegal and stifles fair use, innovation, and competition.

....May this be a lesson to those who mistakenly laud certain DRM as "open" and offering customers "freedom of choice" simply because it is more widely-licensed than other formats. With DRM under the DMCA, nothing truly plays for sure, regardless of whether you're purchasing from Apple, Microsoft, or anyone else....

Doctorow drove straight to the irony of the situation when he wrote "Microsoft's iPod-killing Zune player won't play music that's locked up with Microsoft's own anti-copying software."

Don't say you weren't warned. 

Topics: Piracy

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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