According to the LA Times, Microsoft is introducing technology that greatly reduces consumer choice as to copying, burning, sharing:
- Studios and record labels want their products protected from the widespread thievery popularized by services such as Napster. Spurred by the threat of federal legislation, technology companies such as Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks Inc. are scrambling to prove that their systems do more than the other fellow’s to keep content under lock and key.
Microsoft has been particularly aggressive, launching a number of efforts to satisfy entertainment moguls’ hunger for security in a digital age when content can be perfectly reproduced millions of times. Other companies are making similar efforts, chasing what they see as lucrative business at a time of flagging technology sales.
But Microsoft, which faces its own considerable battle against pirates, would give copyright owners unprecedented power.
“I was looking at their new innovation, and I was very much impressed,” Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti said after a trip to Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters. “Some of the plans they had certainly could include my [member] companies.”
Those plans center on three efforts, including Microsoft’s latest Media Player, to be unveiled Wednesday in Los Angeles by company founder Bill Gates.
* Media Player 9, like competing offerings from RealNetworks and Apple Computer Inc., is designed to make Internet video look more like a TV broadcast, with less delay and crisper quality.
Behind the scenes, it also will improve content owners’ ability to manage the rules they set for users, so that a song or clip can be downloaded but not copied, or can be made to disappear from a computer after a day or a week.
“Giving the content owners flexibility in how they assign rights and bring content to consumers has been a huge focus of ours,” said Will Poole, Microsoft corporate vice president for new media.
Movielink, the fledgling multi-studio effort to offer films online, is expected to use the Windows Media format, movie executives said, though it may also use software from RealNetworks.
Pressplay, one of the two major record label-owned music services, already uses Windows Media.
* Today, Hewlett-Packard Co. will announce a new type of home computer based on Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system and aimed at the living room, a top unclaimed prize for Microsoft.
At a cost of $1,500 to $2,000, the XP Media Center Edition allows viewers to surf the Web and watch cable or broadcast TV programming and record that material on a high-capacity hard drive or DVD–but not copy it, play it back on the bedroom television or e-mail it.
….Virtually all of the proposals could be used to limit what consumers do, potentially eroding what generally has been considered the fair use of songs, television shows and movies.
No law or court ruling has required companies to make it easy–or even possible–for consumers to copy or customize copyrighted works for personal use. That means it’s up to tech companies to figure out how to help consumers do that.
A Microsoft lobbyist said without firm legal guidance on fair use, the decisions belong in the marketplace. “If consumers are demanding the right to make one copy, that’s going to be something you have to work out with your consumers,” she said.
Poole said the new entertainment arrangements will be good for consumers, whatever restrictions are attached.
“If we continue to do as good a job as we think we’re doing, consumers are going to get much more than they could get before,” he said, citing out-of-syndication television series and older recorded music as examples.
But it may not sit well with the audience, who ultimately will decide with their wallets where the balance lies between security and freedom.
The record companies have learned that too many restrictions make their services uncompetitive with pirated offerings. Their efforts to peddle downloadable music that can’t be copied or moved to portable devices have been a near-total failure. Consumers instead flock to unauthorized sites offering unfettered music for free.
….”There is much more similarity between Microsoft and Hollywood than is generally recognized,” said Andy Bechtolscheim, a Cisco Systems Inc. vice president who has been promoting an open distribution format that would require device users to seek electronic permission from content owners for each viewing.
But even some of Microsoft’s closest allies in the computing world, top chip maker Intel Corp. and Cisco, the biggest manufacturer of specialized machines for routing Internet traffic, take issue with the unbridled nature of Microsoft’s Hollywood come-ons.
“I don’t think it’s a tenable position to say we’re just going to put technology out there and sure, it will step on consumer fair use,” said Don Whiteside, Intel vice president of legal and government affairs.
Cisco’s Bechtolscheim agreed. “Just because people have been able to play it however they want, doesn’t mean they will continue to be able to,” he said. “This ought to get people riled up.”