After posting a fairly positive commentary on the Zune player it pains me to say that it looks like Microsoft’s willingness to compromise its technology in order to satisfy the increasingly shrill demands of the content industry means that the player will be significantly less interesting or useful than it first seemed.
As more reports come out on how the DRM will work it looks like you won’t even be able to play protected media from non-Microsoft sources like Napster.
According to EFF
Microsoft’s Zune will not play protected Windows Media Audio and Video purchased or “rented” from Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited, Movielink, Cinemanow, or any other online media service.
They believe this because
Buried in footnote 4 of its press release, Microsoft clearly states that “Zune software can import audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264” — protected WMA and WMV (not to mention iTunes DRMed AAC) are conspicuously absent.
Of course this may just be an omission, and it’s certainly one they could correct. Much more worrying is that Microsoft has clearly stated that they will wrap DRM around ALL files shared from player to player so that the recipient will only have three days/three plays – and this will apply even to unprotected content, stuff you’ve written and recorded yourself and even Creative Commons licensed material (thereby breaching the CC license).
According to the Zune Insider blog
There currently isn’t a way to sniff out what you are sending, so we wrap it all up in DRM. We can’t tell if you are sending a song from a known band or your own home recording so we default to the safety of encoding.
I love the use of the word ‘safety’ here- safe for the media-industrial cartel, I suspect, but not for ordinary users.
More on this on Medialoper, which christens it ‘viral DRM’ and points out that
wireless music sharing is turning out to be one of those features that seemed better when it was just a rumor
In fact the whole Zune project is starting to look like a fantastic opportunity that will be thrown away just in order to keep the record and movie industries on board. Why didn’t Microsoft decide to build a great, open player and store and offer unlocked content from artists who it would support. After all, instead of spending a few hundred million dollars marketing a player that won’t do what we want, they could have given the money to recording artists to make great content.