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6/30/2006
06:56 PM
Patricia Keefe
Patricia Keefe
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Fight For Your Entertainment Rights

If you own an iPod or MP3 player; yearn for a music-enabled phone; download, share, or mix songs and video; or even if you just want to listen to your music or watch your videos in relative peace, take heed. Pending legislation could make the simplest exercise in legal home media use more cumbersome than you could ever imagine.

If you own an iPod or MP3 player; yearn for a music-enabled phone; download, share, or mix songs and video; or even if you just want to listen to your music or watch your videos in relative peace, take heed. Pending legislation could make the simplest exercise in legal home media use more cumbersome than you could ever imagine.You can read more about it in our five-part package by Alice LaPlante. It provides an overview of the digital home entertainment market and examines what it would take for Apple specifically, but anyone really, to grab control of this emerging market of gargantuan proportions.

IT vendors across multiple spectrums are lustily eyeing that space and honing strategy, products, and partnerships in a bid to plant a stake in the ground early on, with hopes of parlaying that into market leadership.

Apple in particular, with its uncanny sense of what consumers want and its phenomenal success with the iPod, is expected to make a big play in this market.

The obsessively secretive Apple is, of course, saying next to nothing. But that hasn't stopped everyone else from piling on with their own thoughts on what Apple might do, and how successful it might be. Hint: Much of Apple's success with the iPod is traced back to its end-to-end control of the product and the market. But observers say Apple's model simply won't fly in the heavily fragmented digital living room.

Now you may not care which vendors come out ahead, but you will care, or should care, about pending legislation that aims to regulate and control how digital content is distributed--by whom, to whom, and onto what platforms. Will the courts decide based on consumer intent and behavior (fair use), or on the technological capabilities of the technology being used? The most recent evidence--the Grokster ruling--indicates a focus on the latter, which isn't good for consumers.

If some of these bill backers have their way, recordings could be tied to specific platforms and not be transferable between them. Which means consumers will have to pay per platform when they download or send, even for personal use. In a bill sponsored by Calif. Sen. Diane Feinstein, consumers would no longer be able to break up music tracks downloaded from broadcasts, which would totally change what they do on MP3 players today. Other bills would force equipment makers to restrict the ability of their offerings (now there is real incentive to innovate). For more details, go to the sidebar on this specific issue and take a good look at what consumers are up against.

Given that this is a major consumer issue, it will be interesting to see how the blogosphere will react. Will they rally like they did in the aftermath of the Sony copy protection debacle? There's no question that blogger outrage was a key factor in forcing Sony to first back off and then rescind its sneaky copy protection scheme. It also no doubt helped spur public statements of condemnation from other technology companies watching from the sidelines.

The Sony uproar technically only affected people who bought Sony products. But these bills are far more sweeping and could have a much broader reach--both population-wise and technology-wise.

Bloggers and the rest of the music-listening, video-watching public had better speak up now, before they find the digital living room plastic-slipcovered before the concept even gets off the ground. What's the fair way to distribute content? Let us know by commenting at this blog entry.

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