Via Luis Villa, tomorrow’s New York Times has a decent article headlined Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs. The article title is right (Villa’s summary is a better description, if not a better headline: “iTunes and DRM hurts perfectly innocent customers, fails to stop piracy, and reduces competition”), but it leads off wrong:
like its slimmer iPod siblings, the iPhone’s music-playing function will be limited by factory-installed “crippleware.”
Wrong, the objects of iZombie lust can play any MP3 file that is not itself crippled. The crippleware (the handcuffs to avoid) is not factory-installed, but purchased from the iTunes Store — tracks crippled by DRM.
Perhaps iTunes (the media player and ITunes Store browser), some version of which I assume is factory-installed on the iPhone, is perhaps more akin to malware. Not the type that takes over your computer without your knowledge, but the type that presents you with many opportunities to download and perhaps pay for software and porn that will cripple your computer. It’s a fine line.
The NYT article has a great closing:
IN the long view, Mr. Goldberg said he believes that today’s copy-protection battles will prove short-lived. Eventually, perhaps in 5 or 10 years, he predicts, all portable players will have wireless broadband capability and will provide direct access, anytime, anywhere, to every song ever released for a low monthly subscription fee.
It’s a prediction that has a high probability of realization because such a system is already found in South Korea, where three million subscribers enjoy direct, wireless access to a virtually limitless music catalog for only $5 a month. He noted, however, that music companies in South Korea did not agree to such a radically different business model until sales of physical CDs had collapsed.
Pointing to South Korea, where copy protection has disappeared, Mr. Goldberg invoked the pithy aphorism attributed to the author William Gibson: “The future is here; it’s just not widely distributed yet.”
I’m skeptical that the emphasized (by me) portion above is not exaggerated, though I’ll grant that South Korea is probably some years ahead of music businesses in the U.S. and other places similarly primitive in this respect, which may undergo a transition similar to South Korea’s. But we can also look to markets that started from a very different place, e.g., China.
We could beneficially spend more time looking for examples that may be ahead of the pack or simply different, and not just in the music business.