As usual I have mixed feelings. Today Microsoft came out with their new DRM, called Janus (who would have thought Microsoft would choose to identify one of its products as two-faced?), which will, in the short run give consumers more flexibility with digital content, specifically enabling “rented” material like music or movies to be moved from the computer onto portable devices, but it also locks in the copyright industry’s ability to tell consumers what they can and cannot do with content they have paid for, although this notion of “renting” material fuzzies the ownership issue.
The Washington Post’s Cynthia Webb does a very nice job of rounding up the story:
- Microsoft is unveiling new digital rights management software — code-named Janus — that seeks to solve one of the biggest problems facing online subscription music services, i.e. how to ensure that customers don’t pay for a song once and share it repeatedly by downloading it to numerous devices. To date, Internet music sites have solved that question by strictly limiting — even forbidding — the ability to move a copyrighted song to another device, like an MP3 player or handheld.
“The missing piece, the piece that we’re delivering with Janus, is the ability to extend that subscription service content onto devices, and for it to still be protected,” Jason Reindorp, a manager in Microsoft’s Windows consumer group, told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Janus will enable users to transfer songs and other digital content from subscription music sites to handhelds, cell phones and portable music players. More important for the music moguls, the software stamps the content with a use-by date, requiring users to pay-up every so often to maintain their rights to tunes and movie.
“Reindorp acknowledged that there are ‘a lot of mixed views out there in terms of whether subscription services will be appealing, whether they’ll be successful’ However, he said, ‘It’s impossible to make any kind of judgment on the viability of subscription services until you can extend them to devices.'”
The San Jose Mercury News explains more on why the service is so appealing to the music biz: “Online music-subscription services like MusicNet or Rhapsody offer a seemingly appealing proposition: all the music you could ever listen to for a flat monthly fee. But there has always been a hitch. The songs remain locked to your computer, unless you pay more to buy them outright.” The newspaper noted that the Janus announcement “potentially removes that obstacle,” because “the software will allow consumers to move rented music, movies or games onto portable devices or distribute them across home networks. … The new software has an internal clock that keeps track of the return date on a particular song or movie. Every time the portable music player or a Pocket PC connects to the Internet, or to an Internet-connected PC, the software checks the return date to see if the file has expired. That internal clock is key to subscription services. Record companies have refused to offer portability without such safeguards. Their fear: Consumers would join a service for a month, transfer all their favorite songs to a portable player in one giant download binge, then cancel their subscriptions. The new version of Windows Media software would prevent such abuse — while allowing for portability.”
….CNET’s News.com noted that the enhanced software was originally expected to be released up to a year ago and also explained the anti-piracy tools that are part of the upgrade. Janus has “features that would protect content that is streamed around a home network, or even block data pathways potentially deemed ‘unsafe,’ such as the traditional analog outputs on a high-definition TV set. That’s a feature that has been sought by movie studios in advance of the move to digital television.”
….Microsoft wouldn’t float an announcement like this without some customer deals already in the bag. The company “says online music and movie services including Napster, MovieLink, VirginMega, MusicNow and CinemaNow plan to use the new technology. Others planning to use it include content companies America Online and Disney and consumer electronics manufacturers, including Creative Labs, Archos and Dell. Seattle-based RealNetworks plans to make content from its Rhapsody service playable on portable devices, and it has acknowledged that it is considering using Microsoft’s Windows Media format as part of that process,” the Post-Intelligencer reported.