DRM: Dumb Rights by Microsoft

There are detractors that say that Microsoft has been following Apple for years, borrowing from their innovations and creating a popularization of that adapted technology – and I would argue, though I usually won’t defend Microsoft, that they did do so, and they did it pretty well. For all of the faults of the Windows platform, there is a reason that it grabbed so much of the market share. However, Apple turned the tide with the introduction of the iPod, dominating the market and putting Microsoft to “also-ran” status. And the introduction of Microsoft’s new digital music player, the Zune is NOT going to unseat Apple any time soon.

For me, Apple’s dominance is partially based on their method of treating ownership of the music (MP3s and MP4’s, mostly) with sane, understandable limits instead of Microsoft’s previously introduced proprietary and draconian DRM-managed .WMA files. The iPod was excellence, its music management and iTunes were genius. While others have tried to compete, adding radios and bigger screens, ability to record and satellite radio, none has come close to dislodging the iPod’s dominance. Enter the Zune and Microsoft’s attempt.

The Zune does have a few nice features (FM Tuner, WiFi networking and more adaptability of the interface screen), but almost immediately starting seeing some bad press. Granted, some people love to disparage Microsoft, but I have a friend who had similar installation problems (if not as severe), so this isn’t just sour grapes.

One thing that I scoffed at from the beginning was the Zune’s continued utilization of DRM and DRM-protected files. I’ve found DRM to be a ridiculous restriction of current Fair Use laws, but the Zune takes it to another level. Having the ability to share files via a WiFi network is a great idea; but it is an idea hampered by the DRM restrictions. You see, unlike the iPod – which does not have the file-sharing ability, wireless or otherwise – you can literally share your music and files with your friends directly on the Zune. However, that sharing of music files is controlled by the “3 plays or 3 days” restriction that locks a file after it is played 3 times or after 72 hours. I have no problem with this as a general rule, particularly with purchased/protected music. But that restriction is universal to all music, even if the material is your own and you don’t extend copyright protection or if it’s free domain stuff; i.e. Microsoft is setting use rights on material that isn’t restricted and they don’t have the right to.

But fear not, ’cause Microsoft and DRM have once again proved laughably fallible. As described on Gizmodo, the solution is as simple as setting the Zune to be recognized as a hard drive, changing the file extensions to .jpg, and shipping the files along with a real .jpg to another user who has also set their Zune to be recognized as a hard drive. They then rename the files back to .mp3 files, and voila – unprotected files.

So, once again an expensive attempt to restrict the consumer unneccessarily through DRM has failed, felled by a decidedly simple and low-tech method. I wish I could say that they’d learn their lesson, but I know better.


2 Responses to “DRM: Dumb Rights by Microsoft

  • I’m convinced there’s one of those stupid motivation posters in their Redmond office that has a guy jumping over some alligators looking down in horror that says “Look as you leap”

  • Actually, it’s an old Activision “PItfall” promo poster that someone mocked up. After all, Microsoft has some problems with originality.

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