RealNetworks: Keep e-music simple, stupid!

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser urges the music industry to settle on a simple standard for downloadable music, negating the urge for online piracy

The music industry's efforts to control downloadable music may be fueling the frenzy for bootlegging software like Napster, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser said Wednesday. It's a little like bathtub gin.

"The mode we're in right now is kind of a Prohibition period where the rights holders and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) are shutting things down -- but they're not providing an equally attractive, legal alternative," Glaser said in remarks following his keynote speech at RealConference 2000.

"The test is, is it easier to go to a licenced bar or liquor store and pick up a six-pack of beer with a liquor board seal on it ... or is it easier to get a bootlegger to give you something in a dark bottle?"

The end of Prohibition stopped bootlegging cold -- that and the fact that consumers were able to get the liquor they wanted at a reasonable price, Glaser said.

"Napster is a good example of where there was no regard for rights-holders, and people went kind of crazy," said Peter Zaballos, RealNetworks' director of systems marketing.

Real, on the other hand, has always played it safe. It has had a long and cordial relationship with the major record labels and sits on the RIAA committee that's tried -- but so far failed -- to produce the Secure Digital Music Initiative.

"Philosophically, we have always supported personal use rights for users -- you buy a CD and your personal rights extend to using it on a PC or another device. We also support the rights of labels and rights holders, whoever creates the content," Zaballos said.

On Wednesday, Glaser demonstrated a pre-beta version of RealSystem 8 that will provide secure encryption for streaming media so businesses can offer pay-per-view content, among other things.

Technology is not a stand-alone solution, he said. "It's a combination of good, smart rules of the road from a business standpoint, consistent enforcement, and technology as an underpinning to support the first two."

The music industry needs to use the technologies that exist to go beyond what Glaser called "the trickle, promotional download mode we're in today" -- to make its entire catalogue available online. He estimated that would take no more than 18 months. Agreeing on one, or possibly two, standards is in the industry's best interests, Glaser added. Otherwise, consumers will be so confused that they'll readily embrace an easy-to-use download tool, such as Napster.

"It's interesting because Napster and MP3.com have gotten a lot of publicity for how fast they're going with all this stuff," Zaballos said.

"RealPlayer and RealJukebox are growing at two to three times the rate of Napster, in terms of users. And we're building a product that's going to be there for the long term."

First the Fonz, now Napster. Will Net users ever be willing to pay for entertainment content on the Web? Web trends expert Annette Hamilton has research that suggests the answer is ... nope. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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