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Zune in the wild

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

I promised that at my appearance at the University Bookstore in Seattle last Friday that I would bring a Zune and see if anyone would send me a song. One problem of Zunes, of course, is that the one significant feature it has and iPods do not have–Wi-Fi–doesn’t do much for you if there are no other Zunes around. The one thing you can do with Zune Wi-Fi (called “community”) is send or receive a song or photo to someone else with a Zune. Before I hit Seattle next week I had never had the opportunity to do this “in the wild,” as opposed to testing it with two Zunes while writing a review. At the recent Microsoft Vista launch–one place where you’d figure you’d find a few Zunes–the guy next to me (an analyst who covers Apple and Microsoft) pulled out a Zune and looked for another one. Nada.

Anyway, as you saw in my previous post, I did get a song sent to me, at least in the semi-wild–at Microsoft itself. So what happened in the bookstore? When I turned on my Zune, aka “brownie,” there was indeed another within range, from a user called “MattyDread” (translation: a guy named Matt who likes Bob Marley). And indeed I got a message asking me if I wanted to accept a song. It was entitled “Pantomime Magpie” from a contingent called Diminished Men. Never heard of them, but I appreciated the squirt. I like the idea of getting songs this way. I imagine if the iPod had that feature, everytime I did a speaking thing I could accept lots of songs and pictures from the audience (since all my audiences are, duh, pretty much iPod-equipped) and afterwards I’d have some fun going through my new arrivals.

Here’s the kicker. It turns out that MattyDread is not a Microsoft guy, but someone who covers the company in a publication called “Directions on Microsoft.” And the song he sent was actually recorded by his own band. Matt told me that when he added the song to his Zune, he put no DRM on it, and indeed his preference would be to let me have it with no protections so I could keep it and even share it as much as I wanted with friends. But the way Zune handles its song sharing, its draconian DRM is slapped on tunes indiscriminately, whether the artists want it there or not. That stinks.


  • It doesn’t address the central issue (that this kind of exchange should really be simple and not require general purpose computers on either end), but you could allow for this kind of sharing at your speaking gigs with an Appletalk share (I believe you’re a powerbook guy).

    If you enable file sharing on your powerbook, one of the default behaviors is allowing others to put files into your machine’s “Drop Box.” So while it would require significantly more effort/overhead for less likely return (set up laptop for sharing, bring laptop to gig, receive files only from those who also brought laptops and can figure out the process), this could be an interesting first step…you get to start seeing what comes through the backchannel this way.

    Unless Microsoft can come up with a way to back off of the arbitrary 3 plays/3 days, only permitted songs sharing limitations without pissing off the labels too much, though, this sort of approach may be your only option for a while.

    – Whit

  • I think the more central issue is to ask, what gives Microsoft the right to “squirt” any copyrighted material without first getting the copyright holder’s permission? I can easily see someone who has self-published some music that wouldn’t want anyone to share it, even with a draconian 3-play, 3-day limit. I don’t imagine it is the majority of semi-pro musicians but it is not a big leap to imagine many people who abhor even temporary sharing.

    Unless Microsoft has decided that the 3-day, 3-play limit makes the limited sharing a “fair-use” right, it seems to me that they are breaking the law. Microsoft might have agreements with the big-4 but they can’t possibly have covered everyone who owns a copyright on music.

    Then there is the opposite issue of creative commons licenses which also are being violated. There are CC licenses that prohibit any form of DRM. Microsoft has made no provisions for them either.

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