Zune, file sharing and media formats

Zune, file sharing and media formats

Summary: What files can you play on your Zune (once it's released)? Does the Zune player add viral DRM to files that you share with others? Does Zune's DRM scheme violate Creative Commons license? Let's find out.

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TOPICS: Apple
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What files can you play on your Zune (once it's released)?  Does the Zune player add viral DRM to files that you share with others?  Does Zune's DRM scheme violate Creative Commons license?  Let's find out.

There's a fair bit of confusion regarding Microsoft's Zune media player and the type of files it plays and how it handles file sharing.  Partly this is because Microsoft is being somewhat tight-lipped about Zune's capabilities, but it's also attributable to the vast amount of speculation generated by journalists and websites.

OK, so what files can you play on your Zune once you get one?  Here's a complete listing of the file formats that you'll be able to play:

Audio:

  • Protected .WMA files purchased via Zune's marketplace)
  • .MP3 (unprotected)
  • .AAC (unprotected)
  • .WMA (unprotected)

Videos:

  • .WMV
  • MPEG-4
  • H.264

Photos:

  • .JPEG/.JPG

That's it.  The Zune does not and will not support protected .WMA files purchased say from MSN and it will not play protected .AAC files bought from iTunes.  From what I've been able to gather, the reason for the lack of support for PlaysForSure is because Microsoft doesn't want the Zune to compete in the existing PlaysForSure ecosystem.  It's pretty clear to me why Microsoft has done this.  Microsoft has in its sights one company and one company alone - Apple.  They aren’t going after the 30% non-Apple, non-iPod market, only the 70% Apple iPod market. 

Does this mean that PlaysForSure is dead?  No.  Microsoft still claims that it's still fully committed to PlaysForSure service and devices.  In other words, Microsoft is fostering two ecosystems - PlaysForSure and the newer Zune marketplace.

OK, what about the file-sharing scheme?  Doesn't this add some nasty form of "viral DRM" to shared files?  Doesn't adding this kind of DRM violate Creative Commons licenses? 

The truth is that there's no such thing as "viral DRM".  The "3-day/3-play" limitation on an unprotected file shared with another Zune user is controlled by the receiving Zune and not any form of DRM.  In other words, the file itself is unchanged and the limitation is controlled by metadata.  I'd wager $10 that this limitation will be hacked out of existence within days of Zune hitting the shelves.

This is different if you share a DRMed file with another user.  First, any DRMed file will need to be marked by the publisher as sharable.  Files that are protected by DRM but not marked as sharable cannot be sent to another Zune.  When a sharable DRM file is sent to another Zune then the DRM is tweaked to allow the file to run on the other Zune.

Does this "device-based DRM" still violate Creative Commons licenses?  No idea, I'm not a lawyer, but my belief is that it wouldn't.  Put a file covered by a Creative Commons license onto an iPod now and you can't share that with anyone else, so the Zune is actually more flexible.  I guess there will be endless debate over this for some time to come.

Oh, and in case you missed the news yesterday, Wal-Mart might have let the cat out of the bag as to Zune pricing.  It appeared on their website listed at $284.

OK, that's it.  I've written too many posts about media players in the past week so I promise that, unless something exciting happens in the iPod/Zune world, this is going to be my last post about these devices ... for a while.

[Updated: September 20, 2006 @ 1:55 pm]

Looks like Microsoft is also preparing the way for a price war with Apple.

Topic: Apple

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13 comments
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  • Nice hardware, completely DUMB implementation...

    Microsoft's OWN player can't play it's OWN protected media that people have already purchased from other PlaysForSure sites.

    What a joke.
    BitTwiddler
  • You missed one thing

    Where you state that you can't share CC media via the iPod, you should have stated: the iPod can't send it wireless to any other iPod.

    I can use the iPod, like any other mp3 player to move files around. I can't send it. But now that you touched upon it. Are you sure that the DRM is added by the receiving side. If so this would mean that you can't share the music with any other device which is not part of the zune family (F.I. the nokia N93 has wireless capability and can play WMA).

    I liked the fact that i could have a potential 30Gb add on to my wifi capable camera, for showing the results on a bigger screen than my cam has, (and the extra storage involved). Only prob is for most pics i use RAW and lateron create the Jpg or Png's.

    If that's the case, then someone should tell the marketing "genius" behind this that the community should consist of only "Zune" people. It could end as a very small community then.

    I liked the idea, but I'm afraid I won't like the implementation a bit.....
    tombalablomba
  • Why would MS deliberately limit themselves?

    ---Microsoft has in its sights one company and one company alone - Apple. They aren?t going after the 30% non-Apple, non-iPod market, only the 70% Apple iPod market---

    Yeah, right. MS doesn't want to take over the whole market, only Apple's 70%. They don't want the extra 30% of profits. Do you really believe this? Regardless of MS' intentions, isn't it obvious that the non-Apple part of the market is the first thing Zune will cannibalize? Plays-For-Sure is dead in the water.

    ---The "3-day/3-play" limitation on an unprotected file shared with another Zune user is controlled by the receiving Zune and not any form of DRM. ---

    Interesting. Have you verified this? What you're saying here is that putting a file on a Zune adds no DRM. Sending a file with a Zune adds no DRM. Receiving a file on a Zune from another Zune adds DRM. Is this the point in the process where DRM is added?

    ---I'd wager $10 that this limitation will be hacked out of existence within days of Zune hitting the shelves.---

    And I'll wager that if MS doesn't keep on top of this and shut it down immediately, they'll see more lawsuits than Napster and Grokster combined. No way the RIAA license their material to a company that's selling a mobile version of the original Napster.

    ---Does this "device-based DRM" still violate Creative Commons licenses?---

    Hard to say. CC does contain this clause:
    "You may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work with any technological measures that control access or use of the Work in a manner inconsistent with the terms of this License Agreement."

    MS isn't distributing the CC material themselves, but building the device. So the user is probably the one liable. But then again, Grokster and others have been sued for people doing illegal license infringement with their products. Expect the same here.

    ---Put a file covered by a Creative Commons license onto an iPod now and you can't share that with anyone else, so the Zune is actually more flexible.---

    This is irrelevant. CC licenses don't force you to share anything. But they do outlaw adding DRM to the file.

    ---Oh, and in case you missed the news yesterday, Wal-Mart might have let the cat out of the bag as to Zune pricing. It appeared on their website listed at $284---

    Kiss of death--People are not going to pay $35 more for an inferior product.
    tic swayback
    • Lots of good points

      "Yeah, right. MS doesn't want to take over the whole market, only Apple's 70%. They don't want the extra 30% of profits. Do you really believe this? Regardless of MS' intentions, isn't it obvious that the non-Apple part of the market is the first thing Zune will cannibalize? Plays-For-Sure is dead in the water."

      Microsoft makes a lot of money through PlaysForSure, not to mention the fact that the Zune is made by a big PFS player Toshiba! Why eat into their own market?

      "Interesting. Have you verified this? What you're saying here is that putting a file on a Zune adds no DRM. Sending a file with a Zune adds no DRM. Receiving a file on a Zune from another Zune adds DRM. Is this the point in the process where DRM is added?"

      Not verified it (no Zune review units yet) but this is the information I received from Microsoft. I'm still unclear as to what happens when a DRM file marked marked for sharing is shared.

      "And I'll wager that if MS doesn't keep on top of this and shut it down immediately, they'll see more lawsuits than Napster and Grokster combined. No way the RIAA license their material to a company that's selling a mobile version of the original Napster."

      Doubt it, remember that the limitation will be enforced by DRM for DRMed media files.

      "Kiss of death--People are not going to pay $35 more for an inferior product."

      Did you see my update about the price war?
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Long term profits

        ---Microsoft makes a lot of money through PlaysForSure, not to mention the fact that the Zune is made by a big PFS player Toshiba! Why eat into their own market?---

        I don't know, PFS sales are a tiny, tiny percentage of the market (the #2 site behind Apple is the DRM-less eMusic), so it can't be a huge amount of money. But think long term. Is it better to get a cut of a dwindling 30% of the market, or to own 100% of the market? So you lose some licensing deals now, those are more than made up for by song sales. And, once you do own the market, you start licensing the Zune DRM, so you get to have your cake and eat it too.

        ---Doubt it, remember that the limitation will be enforced by DRM for DRMed media files---

        Grokster and Napster didn't start with DRMed files. They started with files from CDs. If MS is creating an unrestricted device for swapping songs from CDs, I'd expect them to face the same fate as Grokster and Napster. DRMed media files only make up a tiny fraction of the market. The RIAA isn't going to sit by and let anyone give away their property. Look at how they reacted to satellite radio devices that recorded programming.

        ---Did you see my update about the price war?---

        Just saw it. I have a feeling MS is going to have to be willing to lose money on each device (ala Xbox) for a very long time before they see much market traction.
        tic swayback
        • incorrect terminology

          --PFS sales are a tiny, tiny percentage of the market --

          It isn't the sales that count; I alone (having downloaded gigabytes from Napster on subscription) am equal to thousands of iTunes customers, as far as 'units' or profit on DRM goes. If my listening habits are any indication, MS is most likely making quite a bit off of their DRM.
          mdemuth
          • Re: incorrect terminology

            [i] I alone (having downloaded gigabytes from Napster on subscription) am equal to thousands of iTunes customers...[/i]

            This makes no sense. The average iPod owner has 20 iTMS songs on his device. If you're equal to just one thousand (average) iTunes customers then you are in the hole $19,999.80 for your music subscription.

            Can that be true?

            ")
            none none
          • You're still in a tiny minority

            I have a hard time believing Napster is paying MS per song for subscription DRM. And uptake of subscriptions is a tiny blip compared to iTunes sales, which are a tiny blip compared to cd sales.
            tic swayback
    • Re: Why would MS deliberately limit themselves?

      [i]MS isn't distributing the CC material themselves, but building the device. So the user is probably the one liable. But then again, Grokster and others have been sued for people doing illegal license infringement with their products. Expect the same here.[/i]

      Good point. I would add the DMCA has codified the notion that a device is illegal irrespective of the use to which it's put. If the movie industry can go after 321-Studios, and not its users, then Joe Garage Band can go after MS if its users use Zune to violate his license terms.

      His copyright is the same as a movie studio's.


      :)
      none none
    • I find my self agreeing with you an aqful lot today . . .

      -Plays-For-Sure is dead in the water.-

      I actually agree with you on this (I've found myself doing that a lot, recently <grin>). And I can see the lawsuits coming from the PFS companies that were assured that the brand (and their contracts) actually meant something.

      -Interesting. Have you verified this? What you're saying here is that putting a file on a Zune adds no DRM. Sending a file with a Zune adds no DRM. Receiving a file on a Zune from another Zune adds DRM. Is this the point in the process where DRM is added?-

      This makes sense, believe it or not. If it was added when it went onto the zune, you'd only be able to listen to your own songs three times before you would have to re-load them onto your own player. Otherwise they'd have to build in a wild DRM scheme to cover every conceivable instance.
      ( I realize it's more complicated than that, but . . .)

      And I'm wondering whether or not you could rebroadcast a song to another zune that you recieved from somone else's zune? If not, MS wouldn't have to worry about a Grokster-esque lawsuit. If so, I'd think they'd be liable . . .

      AS for Inferior product? that remains to be seen. But to price higher thatn a better equipped iPod is a "bit" odd, to say the lest . . .especially when the Sansa 'E' series is cheaper than the ipod, AND does everything the Zune can do, (Except the whole wifi thing), including video on their 2 gig players . . .
      jlhenry62
    • But tic...

      It has Wifi! :)
      ju1ce
      • Very true

        Now if we could only come up with something interesting to do with Wifi on a player like this, other than draining the batteries....
        tic swayback
  • Re: Zune, file sharing and media formats

    [i]"I'd wager $10 that this limitation will be hacked out of existence within days of Zune hitting the shelves."[/i]

    I won't take that bet but I'd wager $10 that someone will put Linux on Zune. Then it will really be useful.


    :)
    none none