Real's Freedom is a Lie, True Music Choice Lies Elsewhere

Since the last editorial I penned about Realis supposed "Freedom of Music Choice" campaign, things havenit been going very well for the company. The petition begging Real to stop this nonsense has more signatures than Realis official petition. The Real "Freedom of Music Choice" site first allowed user comments, but quickly disabled them when the majority of folks also spoke out against Real. About the only good news is that the Public Knowledge folks now allow comments, due to a previous software bug on their site.

What I find both amusing and annoying is that mainstream media outlets and Windows fanboys alike point at the Mac "zealots" speaking out against the campaign. What these folks fail to take into account is that the Apple music suite, which consists of the iPod, iTunes, iTMS and AirPort Express, are for both Mac and Windows. It would stand to reason that, given Windows and PC market share, at least some of those speaking out against the campaign are Windows and PC users.

Choice?

But back to the topic at hand, choice. There are many hollering about how Apple is shackling poor iPod users to iTMS, preventing them the choice of online music stores. Never mind that even this statement is false (more in a moment), but Iid like to examine a less narrow view of what comprises choice when considering a music player and service.

Every music player offers a choice of supported audio formats. With MP3 and WAV being a given, how about additional formats offered on various players? The iPod also supports AAC, Audible, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. How about some other popular players? The Dell DJ also supports WMA and ADPCM. Creativeis Nomad? They also support WMA and some, ADPCM. The iRiver series? WMA, ASF and some, Ogg Vorbis. By my count, the iPod offers the greatest choice of supported media formats. Score one for Apple in the choice department.

How about the number of songs one can purchase at the various online stores? iTMS recently reported the availability of over 1 million tracks. How about the other guys, many of which donit work on the Mac? BuyMusic, which many predicted would bury iTMS, offers around 500,000. Musicmatch reports 600,000 songs. The Real Music Store also claims around 600,000 songs. By our count, at least at this point, iTMS offers the greatest choice of online music. Score another point for Apple in the choice department.

Back to Realis statement about iPod users being locked into iTMS being false. Reading the Real press release, theyid have you believe that "Before RealPlayer with Harmony, consumers buying digital music were forced to buy music that only worked on a particular brand of portable device." Although I can understand Realis motivation to stretch the truth (making money), it is unfortunate that other self-proclaimed news sites parrot this misinformation with statements like "RealNetworks is also promoting a message about freedom of choice. Previously, iPod owners were forced to use only Appleis music-download service." It even seems that some poor survey group called Insight Express was duped into performing a survey based on this bogus "locked in" premise. Reportedly, 8 percent of iPod owners knew they were "locked in" to the iPod and iTMS. That warms my heart, since the other 92 percent were right in that they are not locked in.

For instance

What store could possibly offer content that doesnit lock you into a proprietary DRM scheme, you ask? In the course of doing something called "investigative journalism," I discovered that this claim of Apple lock-in is, to be blunt, a lie. My proof lies in the fact that I just downloaded, as part of an introductory offer, a bunch of MP3 files from a spiffy service called eMusic. My initial choice was Across America from Art Garfunkel, but thatis not important. Note that these arenit special MP3 files; they can be played by virtually every jukebox software and music player, and are of fairly high 192-bit, 44 kHz quality. Although the eMusic catalog is relatively small, containing about 450,000 tracks, and their choices are outside of the mainstream, their tracks definitely play on every player. Theyive said as much in a recent press release, which for some reason, didnit get much mention from the cheerleaders that are supporting Realis "Freedom of Music Choice."

Another MP3-based download site whose DRM-less downloads will play on an iPod is Bleep.com, an arm of Warp Records that features a somewhat small catalog from several important independent music labels.

Giving DRM the boot

My conclusions? As demonstrated, as far as music solutions that choose to use DRM, the Apple solution actually offers the most choice in terms of supported computing platforms, supported audio formats and number of available tracks. But, if one wants to get true choice, the answer isnit for all forms of DRM to interoperate, the solution is to get rid of DRM altogether. When you look at the issue this way, the supposed enemy of choice now changes, from those who build the system to download and play music, to those who set up the licensing conditions to legally sell said music. To solve this problem, both those who license the music, as well as those who consume it, need to make it clear to the music industry that a DRM requirement is hurting the industry and interoperability, and that it must go.