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Sunday, March 26, 2006

French Copyright

OK There is a bloging, pod casting, media furore about what the French were about to / might still do in a months time.
Is it right ? Is it fair ? Is it abut time ? Will Apple pull out ? Will this destroy the iPods monopoly ? et al.

There was an interesting blog at daring fireball which I read this morning which talked about Apples’s place / iPod market density. Whether the piece of equipment is being placed in the wrong consumer domain, it should be seen as a luxury and a delicate one at that. A defence is then mounted about apples pricing structure, it is argued that it is not only competitive pricing, but given the “value” of the product it could be seen as under priced. Apple have a lot to thank Amileo for, he hired Jonathon Ive, his design made the iPod an icon.

This all comes at a time when the US version of the competition commission is investigating the record labels to work out if they have colluded in the setting of the online music prices (centred around the ITMS). Is 79p a track correct, it’s very state controlled isn’t it no real market forces are at work. Record labels will soon be renegotiating their deals with St. Steve, is this why he wants to push other media, so he can turn round can claim music downloads are “so last year” ?

The ITMS is / has been a false moniker for some time, with the launch of the ITMS first full length feature film last week – is the reality distortion field already effecting the other major shareholders over at the Mouse Factory ? Does this mean that eventually music will become merely one form of media that people buy online ? Probably not anytime soon, with the size and quality of online video downloads until stupid fast broadband becomes commonplace this is going to have to be limited to TV episodes, which you can get at good quality to download. The Disney film is small, low resolution and still takes like for ages to dl – not good, Desperate housewives is winning though, it’s only 40 minutes long and will play at full screen not to horrifically. More on cost later.

The French have proposed that music bought on iTunes should be playable on what ever media player you want, is essence. There is a bunch of other bits and bobs about author rights and cracking etc. The main thrust is this iTunes / other player piece. To do this apple would either have to divulge the intricacies of their fair play stuff or remove it to allow a cheese eating surrender monkey to buy online play anywhere.
I don’t own an iPod, I have previously lambasted those who do because of what I see as the shortcomings of the device (Until recently a lack of FM tuner, hard disk spinning, horrible screen, rubbish controls) a position that might soon place me in a separate ethical dilemma that I won’t enter into explaining here.
I own my now 3 year old iBead 256 megs, which serve me well whilst jogging, shopping, washing the cornesmobile™ . The size is starting to be a problem when podcasts I get regularly hit 30-50 meg a piece.

I mainly listen to my own CDs I own a lot of CDs, I once tried to convert them all to mp3 and gave up half way through when I ran out of hard disk space. Nowadays this is less of a problem with hundreds of gigs available as portably disks, I could feasibly carry my music around, if I compressed it enough I could possible get it on an iPod. I will always buy CDs, I like them – the art, the paper, the plastic etc.

As such when I wanna rip my own music from my own CDs and put it on my meagre mp3 player I just do it. Since I moved to apple, I do it from iTunes, my mp3 player registering as a drive on the macs.

I have begun to buy music from the ITMS, it’s certainly not cheaper than HMV, for what you get it’s more expensive, you get music only and maybe the album art. Yes you can print it, but you can’t print a CD inlay or the track listing properly. Here is the crooks of it, you can’t natively take the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe soundtrack I bought on ITMS and stick it on my mp3 player for my morning jog. I could on an iPod. I can’t sync with iTunes my mp3 player to my “Today’s Pods” play list; I have to drag them to the desktop, and then drag them to my drive. It still works though.

The French think this is unfair, I think it’s unfair. However I’m not being forced to buy from ITMS, other than Napster doesn’t run on my mac, I could carry on buying from CDWOW and then ripping it myself. What they are I think forgetting is that by apple having this benevolent dictatorship with St. Steve at it’s helm, this complex music online podcasting, buying, downloading, syncing, listening, sorting, tagging, thing all works seamlessly. The reason some argue that legal online music purchasing and downloading has taken off is because apple made it easy, you buy and iPod plug it in, open iTunes and click purchase or buy or import and boom it’s on your computer PC or mac then it’s on your iPod. Why ? Because they know how to do that because the designed it all in the first place.

Some claim apple will wave au revoir to it’s ITMS.fr. The people who would lose out are the French music buying public. Some claim there is a principal here and no matter how benevolent, dictatorships are bad, I usually agree with this – but this isn’t a war, this isn’t a fight for democracy, we’re not in the Persian gulf. You don’t wanna use ITMS, then don’t. People if they were so annoyed that they couldn’t play their music from the ITMS on their Packard Bell Audio Dream they’d have stopped buying from the ITMS and stopped buying iPods. Neither had happened. I think there are more feature rich, audio file compliant players out there… people obviously don’t want them. If there was a demand for the features, apple would have added them. Apple has choreographed the ITMS and the iPod thus far too well.

If it was left up to separate entities, you’d have a mish mash of standards all the different stakeholders engaging in blatant protectionism, a bunch of music sources, a lack of structure and you’d be on a wing and a prayer every time you click download. We know this is the case because to a greater degree this is what happened by IBM losing control of the initial PC market. Clones all popped up claimed to be just as good and for most things they were until you wanted to do the stuff only the clones could let you do, like upgrade this or add that and you were in a sea of hope and usually drowning in despair. Various bodies and entities tried to collaborate to make a standard standard, it failed. MS tried to vet all drivers for Windows. Couldn’t do it because 1) You click “Install anyway” 2) When you do, it still might work 3) They’d already lost / never really had that control so no one cared. Although by loosing control yes prices tumbled, that was an emerging market – record sales aren’t. I don’t believe the record companies will use this open access to rise competition, prices maybe, but not competition. The record companies have yet to prove themselves in this digital millennium anything other than greedy and selfish .

ITMS is I’ve said expensive for what you get, but there is a uniformity that people crave. You know a single is 79p even from the tail end. An album £7.99. That’s the same price as most record shops, Virgin and HMV excluded. Still I don’t like the fact you don’t get the bits of paper and plastic. It’s not just the music you should look at like this. To buy a season of episodes of on DVD is less expensive than from iTunes, they’ve just started talking about this season pass… so this might level the playing field a bit. Universal is about to / has just launched their film download service, I’ve not tried it – but I hear you get the movie to watch near instantly (given download / streaming time) they still post you the DVD and you can get iPod sized versions to download. Apple has it appears been beaten to the punch on this one. Except of course, apple still already has a lead by having distribution software being used by everyone with an iPod / mac. They can’t go dishing out DVDs yet though.

Finally do I think the proposed action is worth it, you have to ask who will it benefit, MS certainly, creative, real etc damn right it will. I’d love to know where certain French lobbyists have gotten campaign money from ? Apple –heck it could do, ITMS sales might rise a few percent (Like supplying apples that can run windows might just raise the market share a few points too). Is it fair to allow apple to expend money and resources on making a process a success then tell them to let every other Tom Dick and Bill in on the secrets of that competitive advantage. Will the French proposal benefit the listener ? I doubt it. Listeners have an easy ride because apple took a problem and solved it well. They do that a lot.

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