I’ve finally experienced what it must be like for Barry Bonds to participate in a game of slow-pitch softball.
“Let me see. I could hit it over there, over there, or
over there. Ah, what the hell…”
I refer, of course, to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s recent statements before a group of journalists in London. While discussing digital rights management (DRM), he said “We’ve had DRM in Windows for years. The most common format of music on an iPod is stolen.” He also asserted that when it comes to integrating computer technology in home entertainment systems, “There is no way you can get there with Apple.”
Let me see. I could hit it over there, over there, or
over there. Ah, what the hell….
One’s first inclination is to suggest that, given Microsoft’s checkered legal record, Ballmer is hardly the pot to be calling this kettle of iPod owners black. It’s quite possible that a large number of iPods carry a tune to two obtained in ways objectionable to the RIAA. But my best guess is that an equal number of players compatible with Microsoft’s own wma format are just as populated with stolen music. It’s no secret that metric tons of music encoded in a variety of formats — MP3, wma, ogg, flac, and aac — float freely around the Internet. Those who have the will and means to do so can fill their music players with ill-gotten goods.
And Steve, here’s a clue: You can toil over DRM until doomsday, but you’re never going to fully turn off the tap of free music. Don’t believe me? Trot into the garage and flip open that box full of old cassette tapes. Go ahead, rummage around in there and pull out the half-dozen commercial releases — yeah, the ones you
record from your college roommate’s record collection.
You’re fighting a time-honored tradition. Where technology exists to get something for nothing, there will be people who take advantage of it. As long as music must travel down a wire, into an amplifier, and out a speaker, some clever folks will find ways to intercept it — even when it means doing something as crude as converting a digital signal to analog and recording it to another device.
I’m not condoning piracy, only suggesting that Apple’s got it right. What can be done can also be undone. Create a DRM scheme that doesn’t make consumers jump through hoops to enjoy the media they’ve purchased and make that scheme restrictive enough so that most people don’t rampantly steal media and you’ve done the best you can. Impose draconian protection on media and customers will seek other outlets.
I might also suggest, Steve, that not only can Apple get you there, it already
— and, once again, you’re using Apple’s work as a model for your own. The kind of light restrictions you place on music sold from your own MSN Music Service ape Apple’s — the ability to burn purchased music to disc, move it to an unlimited number of digital players, and play it on a limited number of computers.
But honestly, Steve, you’ve got a greater concern — a little something called credibility. The man who runs that company that “can’t get you there” also heads Pixar and has been mentioned as a successor to Disney’s Michael Eisner. This Jobs fellah is a known — and
— entity in the entertainment world. Your reputation, on the other hand, pretty much begins and ends as the guy whose operating system allowed the computer sitting on Eisner’s desk to contract the Sobig virus on 27 separate occasions.
Given that Apple’s products are regarded pretty highly among creative types and these same types associate viruses, spyware, security holes, and the blue screen of death with Microsoft, you might spend a bit more time making sure that your products work rather than knocking the competition. Do that and provide a DRM scheme more appealing than what the competition offers, and you might have a chance.
Now hit the showers, rook.