Friday, February 23, 2007 

Skype vs. Wireless Carriers - Round I

Skype yesterday petitioned the FCC to force wireless phone carriers who "limit subscribers' right to run software communications applications of their choosing" to change (from Ars Technica).

Back when I was testing TVersity with wireless phones I came to the sad realization that most carriers cripple the web browsers on their devices such that audio and video files inside a web page cannot be played - even if they are in a format that the phone supports.

After digging into this a little bit it became apparent that the carriers exercise full control over our phones. They decide what applications we can run, what audio and video content we can play and what companies are allowed to offer these add-on services.

Unlike their claim that this is the only way to prevent harm to their networks, the real reasons are expensive certification processes and revenue shares. Sounds familiar?

Compare this to the world of personal computers and the Internet. Companies that provide Internet connectivity in the US have been quite vocal about their demand to share revenues with companies like Google or else... This is the well known Net neutrality debate and these companies, which are in most cases in both the ISP and the wireless phone business, wish to apply the wireless model to the non mobile world.

Thankfully Skype (who has been banned by wireless carriers as an application that can run on Cell phones) is trying to do the opposite. They want to bring the stationary model for Internet connectivity to the wireless world, and I say we should all want that. It is, in my opinion, a basic freedom that the free world should grant its citizens. Freedom of speech in the digital era should also mean the freedom to run whatever application I like on my cell phone, as long as I am not harming anyone else.

This is one example where the forces of the market might not solve this problem for us. There are essentially two options, let the market fix this or use legislation.

Can the market fix this without government intervention? The only thing in the foreseeable future that can possibly do it is WiMax. If WiMax brings the typical Internet freedoms with it, we will all be saved. But who are the major players in WiMax? They are the same companies that run wireless networks, and so if they can have it their way, WiMax will be like wireless networks and not like the stationary Internet.

What is the solution then? Legislation!!! It is time for Washington to go back to the most basic freedoms and force wireless carriers to open their networks.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 

Yahoo: By Christmas, most of our music catalog will be DRM-free

According to USA Today Yahoo Music general manager Dave Goldberg predicts that by Christmas, most of Yahoo's catalog will be DRM-free.

In the meantime Valley Wag reports that Mr. Goldberg resigned yesterday. I hope this is unrelated to the DRM prediction... :)

Friday, February 09, 2007 

Zune Phone Confirmed!

Yet another one of my predictions (this time about the iPhone effect) is about to come true. According to Crunch Gear, on Monday, Microsoft filed a mystery application with the FCC for a device that is described as being used for “consumer broadband access and networking”.

Crunch Gear thinks it is going to be a WiMax enabled phone. The important part however is that Microsoft is indeed going to compete with the iPhone:

Our source says that an iPhone competitor has been in the works for a while, and the idea of branding it as part of the Zune ecosystem, from the brown color through the interface, came as a recent decision as a response to Apple’s iPhone.


EMI in talks to sell unprotected MP3s

Looks like my prediction that this year we will see mainstream music (which means music from one of the four major labels) sold without DRM may just surprise even me and actually happen.

According to the Wall Street Journal (and also mentioned in USA Today), EMI is in talks to sell unprotected MP3s. While EMI is not yet confirming this, we all know that if it got printed in the Journal then it has to have some solid roots in reality.

Over a month ago when I made my prediction, it was to some degree a wish. I was convinced that music without DRM was the future, but already in 2007? This was the wishful part or maybe not...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 

Steve Jobs: DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy

In an unusual paper titled thoughts on music, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs has shared with the world his thoughts about the future of DRM.

Mr. Jobs suggests three different possible courses of action for the future of music distribution. The first is keeping the current situation of several competing and proprietary DRM systems, the second is licensing Apple FairPlay (to which he says no) and the third is abolishing DRM completely.

"The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat".

He then says about the labels:
"So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free (he is referring to CDs), what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies".

He concludes by saying:
"Convincing them (the four major labels) to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly".

Mr. Jobs is proving once again that he is a very shrewd business man. After leveraging DRM to take over the marketplace and reaching an unprecedented position of power in the music industry, now that the outcry against Apple's FairPlay is reaching dangerous levels he is moving to reposition Apple as the savior of consumers and the one who would want nothing more than abolishing DRM.

This same man has used the panic in the music industry back then when the iTunes store was established to position Apple as the savior of the desperate labels and artists and now he is doing it again, this time saving us the consumers from the dreaded DRM schemes that are to be blamed on the labels.

To all this, I say, Apple and Microsoft are to be equally blamed for DRM. They were the ones that mislead the labels by claiming that DRM could solve piracy. Therefore they are the one that we, the consumers, should hold responsible (together with one label, Sony BMG, for their use of rootkits).

Either way, the more people join the battle to eliminate DRM the better, so as long as Mr. Jobs truly means what he says, we are happy to accept him with open arms.

Some response from Hilary Rosen, former chairman and CEO of the RIAA, is available in the following CNBC video interview:

Friday, February 02, 2007 

Hollywood admits DRM isn't about piracy

Need I say more? Read the rest here.