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Microsoft and Apple Sell Out Music Fans

Most of you probably know that my former company was MP3.com, which was instrumental in bringing digital music to the masses. One of the things we stood for at MP3.com was the consumer's rights over their own music collection. Our belief was that consumers who purchase their music should have the ability to convert that music into a format they like and put the music on any device they desire. We even tried to get a law pushed through congress affirming this (we did not succeed in that attempt). The last five years have seen multiple attempts to limit consumers' rights via DRM (digital rights management) technology. These are schemes which add "big brother" restrictions to what you can do with your own music library.

It's no secret that the major record labels want to embed restrictions into music and force those restrictions onto customers, but recently they've been getting help from some surprising sources -- namely Microsoft and Apple. While I was the CEO of MP3.com, Microsoft repeatedly offered millions of dollars to us to convert the library of tunes at MP3.com from consumer friendly MP3 to Windows Media format. We always politely declined. Microsoft's strategy was that if they could get the whole world to convert to Windows Media, then they could get the record labels to pay them huge sums to limit how consumers could listen to their music. Thank goodness that hasn't happened yet, because having your music "expire", disappear, degrade in quality, not be able to burn to CD or load onto your devices is an awful consumer experience.

Microsoft is at it again though, trying to use their money and dominance in the OS to get a foothold in music by selling out consumers. Recently, news.com reported that Microsoft is cozzying up to the leading CD restriction company. This means we're one baby step away from all music CDs ONLY playing on Microsoft Windows XP. Imagine having to buy a copy of Microsoft Windows XP for every music device just so you can listen to your own music, and even then being restricted from making a compilation CD for your car!

Apple has understandably succumbed to pressure from the music labels to bolster their chances of securing music licenses for their iTunes music service by trampling music buyers rights. The 2.4% of the world which use Macs will find out that all the music in their newly announced service is wrapped in a digital padlock. This gives Apple (or the record labels) the ability to control what a buyer can do with the music they purchase. The user doesn't get to pick which computer they can listen to their music on (Macs only). Forget any device that isn't an iPod, like my current MP3 player (tiny, no cables, rechargeable battery - nice). Don't even think about burning a disc full of 100 MP3s to play in your DVD player. (Have you noticed virtually all new DVD players will play MP3 files?)

Straight ahead of us is a world where CDs will only play in Microsoft Windows XP computers. Digital songs you buy online will only work with Apple software or an Apple sanctioned portable player. You will not be able to burn any of the music you've purchased onto an MP3 CD to pop into your DVD player. That's a sad and expensive world for music fans because labels and large corporations will extort money from their users who just want to enjoy their own music.

When you pay for music, you should be able to enjoy that music in all the different and convenient ways available. I'm still a big believer in the value of MP3 because it ensures that the customer is in control of their music. Our commitment at Lindows.com is that we won't build restrictions into our OS that limit how you can use your music. We'll do our best to stand up for consumers' rights with their music. Music fans should do their part and not buy crippled music whether in the form of a "secure CD" or an online music service. Instead they should direct their dollars to non-copy protected CDs, services like www.emusic.com (which uses MP3 format) and operating systems that put consumers first, like most Linux offerings still do.

-- Michael
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