November 14, 2003

Music to Lighten Your Step

Posted by shonk at 01:27 AM in Music | TrackBack

A while back I commented on Apple's position regarding music pirates, which is that competing with them is the only way to beat them. That post coincided with the initial fervor over Apple's iTunes Music Store, which at the time was only available on Macintosh machines. Since its PC release a month or so ago, iTunes seems to have already gained some serious cachet in the pop world. Be it dooce thinking that "I can safely blame iTunes for Windows when my child asks why I canít help her pay for her college education" or poseurs trying to enhance their image via their playlists, iTunes is making its presence felt. A measure of its success may well be the hype (and rushed arrival) of competitors like the new Napster and the MusicNow/Best Buy collaboration. Even Wal-Mart apparently plans to get into the act. Of course, the real indicator of who's winning is that iTunes has the McDonald's seal of approval.

In the same spirit in which Apple's Peter Lowe said "The way to go after illegal file sharing services is to compete with them...go after their weaknesses", Sony has come out with a new copy-protection scheme for CDs. Assuming all goes well with the German test run, Sony's scheme will allow people to make digital copies of songs from the CD (unlike other, more restrictive schemes, many of which wouldn't even allow the CD to play in a computer CD-ROM drive) while preventing (supposedly) those digital copies from being traded freely on the net. Though Sony's implementation is far from perfect (the digital copies can only be played on Sony portables players and copying requires some extra manipulation), they're at least thinking in the right direction, innovating rather than turning to the State to solve their problems. As Sony's Phil Wiser says:

All copy-protections can be hacked. But if give people what they are asking for in terms of value, they won't go out and steal it. It's called trusting the consumer.
Now, I know trusting the consumer is rather a new and innovative concept, but it's nice to see that it seems to be catching on (though not, obviously, with presidential candidates).

This is not, of course, to say that it's all peaches and cream in intellectual property land. It didn't take long for MyTunes, an iTunes add-on that allows you to capture and convert to MP3 the songs of others on your network, to surface. MyTunes acts enough like Kazaa and the Napster of old (though without a search feature it's less user-friendly) that iTunes, recently lauded by record labels and artists alike, may still have legal trouble in its future. Similar hacks will no doubt surface with iTunes' competitors. Nonetheless, it's rather nice to see that progress away from the hardline reactionaries of the RIAA is being made.