Freedom of Music Choice?

by Jason Deraleau

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Real Networks recently launched their Freedom of Music Choice campaign in an attempt to lure iPod users away from the iTunes Music Store. The store offers consumers half as many songs as the iTMS, but is currently charging half the price, at a cost of 49 cents per song. However, customers should beware, Apple has publicly stated that future releases of the iPod's firmware may break compatibility with songs that are protected with Real's DRM.

I have two problems with Real's approach to this. First, Real portrays the iPod in such a way that users are led to believe that Apple only allows iTMS-purchased tracks to play on the iPod. This is patently false. I was happily playing MP3s on my iPod long before Apple brought its music store to market. Out of the box, the iPod can play MP3, WAV, AIFF, and AAC formats. All of which are common enough that I don't think anyone would have problems finding an encoder to rip their existing CD collection to an iPod-friendly format.

My second issue with Real's approach is that they reverse-engineered their way onto the iPod. I'm by no means a proponent of the DMCA, but I think Apple should use it to smack Real down. The DMCA doesn't apply in situations where the reverse engineering is done for the sake of consumer fair use, but as pointed out above, there are plenty of readily available formats out there that consumers can easily use with their iPod. iPod sales are at an all-time high, demand is huge... If consumers felt that they were restricted by owning an iPod, I doubt there would be waiting lists for the mini.

No, Real's actions are more like if HP reverse-engineered Epson's print cartridge design and then offered their own, cheaper alternative. Epson wouldn't stand for that, and I'm glad to see Apple isn't going to stand for Real's transgressions. Real is making a desperate attempt to capitalize on Apple's success with a campaign that spreads the usual FUD. Heck, if Real's motives are for greater compatibility, why can't I, as a Mac user, purchase songs from their store?

Sorry, Real. I'm not convinced. Try gaining market share the old fashioned way, by offering a superior and compelling product. In the meantime, I'll be buying my music at the online store with more features and a larger selection of music. And I don't mind paying a higher price for a superior product; but then, I'm a Mac user. ;)

Like it or hate it: What's your take on the new Real campaign?


2004-08-17 07:56:13
Real dirty
iPod also plays AA (Audible) files.

That aside, you hit the nail on the head. Even C|Net is reporting "[Harmony] allowed RealNetworks to begin selling songs in its digital music store that could play on Apple's hugely popular iPod, which no other non-iTunes store can do," which is, as you say, patently false.

In fact, I bought some MP3 format songs from the They Might Be Giants online music store and they work on my iPod just fine, to say nothing of the above mentioned Audible content I buy from their site.

The simple fact is Real is playing dirty in a desperate attempt to remain relevant. What's worse, they are talking about licensing their so-called technology? That's like the businesses that sprung up selling CDs of tunes downloaded from Napster!

Then, just to prove he really is hitting below the belt, Real CEO Rob Glaser compared Steve Jobs, a sworn-Democrat, to right-wing blowhard megalomaniac Bill O'Reilly! Forget the DMCA, Steve needs to smack Glaser down in the ring. You know, right after he finishes recovering from cancer.

Freedom of choice my eye.

2004-08-18 06:08:42
Are you kidding?
Vendors obviously can't sell music online without DRM, so the point that the iPod plays MP3 et al is moot. I'm glad Real is providing Apple with some competition; it's better for me as a consumer. It will drive Apple to add more songs, lower prices, and improve usability. Saying that I can only play songs bought from Apple on my iPod is like saying that I can only play movies bought from Sony on my DVD player. Get Real.
2004-08-18 08:44:32
Are you kidding?
I can't wait until I can play PlayStation 2 games on my XBox and Region 2 movies on my Region 1 DVD player. I should have that freedom of choice. Then I can take advantage of Verizon's "IN" networking from my Cingular phone and order a Nacho Bellgrande from McDonald's. Now that nothing else in the world is proprietary it's time Apple get with it.

Real is a modern day hero, like Napster, if it was run by a fat, balding old guy.

For those losers who think it's WRONG to steal other people's work, feel free to brand yourselves with this logo:

2004-08-18 08:51:36
Are you kidding?
Oh, and by the way, "et al" refers to people. You're thinking of "et cetera." But you should have the freedom of choice to use the language in any old way you please.

Just to be sure, I checked, and the MP3s I bought online, as well as the ones I ripped from the CDs I bought at the store, are still playing on my iPod. So are the audiobooks I bought from Apple competitor Reading Real's press releases I was scared for a minute there. Let's applaud them for their whole being honest with the people and the media.

Let's also applaud them for standing beside Jane Roe before the supreme court, since it's not like they would hijack the phrase "freedom of choice" from some other civil rights movement. Rob Glaser is like the Rosa Parks of our day!

2004-08-18 08:51:36
Are you kidding?
1. Vendors obviously can't sell music online without DRM, so the point that the iPod plays MP3 et al is moot.

That's not true. Some vendors do sell music online without any DRM. Some good examples being,, or Apple is obviously not opposed to allowing content from other services to play on the iPod, if the service offers a compelling reason. Real obviously didn't.

Oh and it's hardly moot. The fact that such a microscopic percentage of music is being sold online makes the iPod's MP3 support paramount. Compare to say, the new Sony Network Walkman, which ONLY supports ATRAC3, requiring you to convert all of your MP3s to Sony's proprietary format.

2. It will drive Apple to add more songs, lower prices, and improve usability.

The iTMS already has more songs. The pricing Real is currently offering is promotional, much like the FREE song you can get every week at the iTMS. And usability? I have a hard time thinking of a way to better integrate a music store than the way iTMS is integrated with iTunes.

I haven't been able to check out Real's service, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say they don't have celebrity playlists, an iMix-like feature, an Essentials collection, or exclusive content. The iTMS isn't the most popular store because it's the only one out there. It's because they offer a superior product that gives end users a more consistent experience with a better feature set. As well as some good strategic partnering and slick marketing.

3. Saying that I can only play songs bought from Apple on my iPod is like saying that I can only play movies bought from Sony on my DVD player.

Actually, no, because Sony makes DVDs that adhere to the DVD standard, which should play in any DVD player. Now, if Sony made a new type of CSS encrypion and only put it on their DVDs and DVD players, then your analogy would be valid.

4. Get Real.

Sadly (well, not so sadly), I can't, because the "freedom of music choice" that Real offers doesn't seem to have been extended to Mac users. Kind of reveals their Real motives...

2004-08-18 21:16:31
Are you kidding?
"et ux" refers to others.
2004-08-19 13:56:18
Are you kidding?
Oh, and by the way, you're missing some commas in your quotes. ;)
2004-08-23 08:14:29
You are kidding, right?
My reply to various points, in no particular order!

1. Vendors obviously can't sell music online without DRM, so the point that the iPod plays MP3 et al is moot.

This is a valid point. Whilst there are exceptions to the rule, anyone can see that for the most part the big greedy music industry will only sell songs crippled with DRM. Just because you find an exception, it doesnt totally invalidate the point.

Anyway, what exactly is your complaint? Is it that you don't approve of reverse engineering? The DMCA won't help here - afterall, the hack doesnt help people produce unprotected content. Why should we, Joe Consumer, care about that anyway? All that has happened is the consumer now has a choice of where to buy their music from and, regardless of the methods used by Real, this surely is a good thing. Consumers for the most part couldnt care less about the business politics behind it and I'm one of them.

No, Real's actions are more like if HP reverse-engineered Epson's print cartridge design and then offered their own, cheaper alternative. Epson wouldn't stand for that...

Well, plenty of other people have made a healthy business selling chipped cartridges. Again, regardless of the business politics, this is clearly to the benefit of the consumer. It prevents the consumer being locked into buying overpriced cartridges. The same analogy can be applied here. If there's no choice where you buy music then what's to stop Apple hiking the prices. IMHO, DRM protected music isn't worth the space it consumes anyway especially given the fair use rights it attempts to restrict. Whos side are you on anyway? Or are you just yet another scorned mac user letting off steam?

2004-08-30 23:49:11
Let's get things straight
Okay, let's cut to the chase. There's two sides to the internet music community, namely the legal and the illegal. I personally have mixed feelings towards our archaic laws in this arena, but let's reserve that for another discussion. Right now, I will state my case exclusively in what might be termed the 'legal' camp (i.e. the market whose users pay due rights for their music, as defined by common law). This market, as it stands right now, is a market where legal music purchase is controlled by a handful of outlets, namely iTunes, RealGuide, Windows Media Guide and other comtemporaries. If you want to download and play these files, there's a plethora of hardware devices available from the electronics store - and here lies the crux of the matter. The market, right now, is frankly akin to the Betamax era. If you buy an iPod, the only place you can purchase music is iTunes. The same is true, ableit certain exceptions, for most other devices. Now I know this means of procuring music is new, but don't you think the delivery mechanism is a bit outdated? If we bought a Sony DVD player and could only buy our DVDs from WalMart, the public would be up in arms, so why should internet media be any different? All Real has done is free up the market. Sure, they independently reverse-engineered the iPod protocol, but isn't that good for the consumer? If Apple had monopoliZed the sale of music for that harware for the next 'X' years, there would have been no obstacle to charging iPod users $3 for songs, or even $5! This way, at least, a person who commits to the iPod hardware (a fantasic device, IMHO) has the choice to purchase music at a *competative* price - a concept in touch with our long-standing free market economy!

A proud, 2-year iPod owner

2004-08-30 23:52:12
Sorry, crazybob, I meant to say, 'well put'!
2004-12-03 11:42:47
Have you ever heard of equate branded products. It's likely that you have. Why aren't you suggesting that they be smacked? Certainly equate's (read: Real's) products aren't superior, but they do offer a compelling reason to buy them, (in this case not only are they cheaper, but they are also more useful).

Would oil companies and car companies be upset if a new fuel were created (maybe from corn?) that worked with both gasoline engines and diesel engines?

p.s. just because the Sony DVD analogy isn't the way it is in reality, that doesn't invalidate it (ever heard of hypothetical?)

2005-05-12 06:10:17
I want to hear a pieceof msic