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March 31, 2004

Rental Nation

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Posted by Ernest Miller

BetaNews reports on a new form of DRM from Microsoft that will be part of MSN Music and tightly integrated with MS Windows (Microsoft Remakes DRM for MSN Music Service). This new form of DRM is a secure clock technology code-named "Janus," which

enables songs distributed under a subscription model to be transferred to portable devices, with a built in "time bomb" that enables songs to expire in the event that a customer's subscription lapses.

Although Janus has been publically discussed since at least June 2002, observers hadn't expected it to come out so soon. Undoubtedly, MS is feeling a little pressure from Apple's iTunes.

Just what I always wanted, access to music that completely goes away when I end my subscription for whatever reason. Do the music companies really think that consumers are that stupid? Apparently so, as Jupiter Research analyst David Card wonders "why 'ownership' is so critical to music users" (Waiting on Janus...and Rethinking Royalties).

Teleread has an excellent bit of commentary on this DRM concept (Bill G's tool for greedsters: Expiring music files--and maybe clocked e-book files later?):

It's almost surrealistic when Bill's father talks about the evils of inherited wealth and the need for estate taxes. What's to inherit when Microsoft and the rest have sucked the rest of the world dry with software rental schemes?

Hyperbole? I'm not so sure. Especially if Bill G. is right and the future is one where software is rented and hardware is free (Gates: 'Free hardware all round').

Conservatives often speak of the liberting power of owning property. Ownership is freedom. There is something do that. That is why a world where many valuable things (including, apparently, culture) are rented and not owned is a very dangerous world indeed.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse


1. Cypherpunk on March 31, 2004 1:16 PM writes...

Keep in mind that, so far, there is no actual evidence that Microsoft or any content company believes customers want music content that will expire if their subscription lapses. These are entirely the speculations of outsiders, such as the Jupiter Research analyst quoted at the BetaNews site. Similar claims have also been floated with regard to Trusted Computing proposals, again never from the companies involved, but rather from outside critics trying to stir up opposition to the proposals.

I'd suggest that something like Janus, apparently a secure time standard for DRM use, would be far more appropriate for "try before you buy" samples where you get to download some content for free and examine it for a short time, or for time-limited movie rentals. These kinds of uses are likely to be acceptable to end users as they're not too different from existing non-internet usage models.

IMO it's not that music companies think consumers are stupid. It's critics of these technologies who think consumers are stupid. I can't count how many times I've seen predictions of some absurd dystopia where Microsoft will lock up your business's crucial files and they'll be lost forever unless you pay an ongoing ransom. No company would put itself into that position, and it's an insult to users to scare people with scenarios like this.

Permalink to Comment

2. Ernest Miller on March 31, 2004 1:30 PM writes...

Absurd dystopia? Ask Cory Doctorow how well iTunes DRM is working for him. What is absurd is that you can burn music to CD a limited number of times, for just one example of absurdity. Why does this make sense to anyone without an MBA or in the music industry? DRM doesn't have to make sense, and seldom does.

You frequently complain about filesharers downloading illegally, but the only "legal" option for downloading includes DRM. If you don't want DRM what choice do you have? In your vision, you simply have to go without online music or suck up the DRM. You talk as if there is choice, but the only choice provided is operate outside the law, or take what the big corporations give you. Call it dystopian if you want, but I call it reality.

In any case, Janus doesn't make a lot of sense for "try before you buy." You want to try it? Why not try a streaming version? Why would "try before you buy" have to be portable ... doesn't really make a lot of sense. Makes a whole heck of a lot of sense for a subcription model, however.

With regard to music, this model makes very little sense. You say is not too different from existing non-internet usage models? When was the last time you rented music for a limited period?

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3. Joseph Pietro Riolo on April 1, 2004 7:08 PM writes...

It is strange to read that ownership is freedom.
This is not entirely true. What is ownership?
It is a set of legal rights that a person or
entity has and is recognized by a society
or government. It is never a set of freedoms.

However, some of these legal rights enable the
owner to exercise freedoms that would not be
possible without the rights. On the other hand,
some of the other legal rights limit or eliminate
the freedoms.

For example, a owner of land can build a church
on his property. The legal right that comes with
the ownership in the land allows him to exercise
the freedom of religion. On the opposite side,
an author's ownership in his work allows him to
prevent others from copying his work and therefore
restricts the freedoms of speech and press.

Ownership in some ways aids freedoms but is never
equal to freedom.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions
in this comment in the public domain.

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