Microsoft Insider Clarifies Zune’s Sharing Limitations

It’s been four days since we noted that Zune’s wireless file sharing sounds an awful lot like a form of viral DRM that may be in violation of the Creative Commons licenses. This afternoon Cesar, the Zune Insider, has stepped up to clarify his original comments:

I misspoke (mis-blogged) on last week’s post. We don’t actually wrap all songs up in DRM. Zune to Zune Sharing doesn’t change the DRM on a song, and it doesn’t impose DRM restrictions on any files that are unprotected. If you have a song – say that you got ‘free and clear’ – Zune to Zune Sharing won’t apply any DRM to that song. The 3-day/3-play limitation is built into the device, and it only applies on the Zune device: when you receive a song in your Inbox, the file remains unchanged. After 3 plays or 3 days, you can no longer play the song; however, you can still see a listing of the songs with the associated metadata.

In an email exchange with Cesar this afternoon, I clarified that the 3 day or 3 play limitation will still be in effect for ALL shared music. After your trial listen expires your Zune will simply stop playing the song. The file and associated meta-data will remain on your device – it just won’t be usable.

Some might argue that this constitutes a form of hardware-based DRM rather than software-based DRM, but I suspect that this approach may be enough to satisfy the terms of the Creative Commons licenses (if not the spirit of those licenses).

I’m not sure exactly what users are supposed to do with their dead songs once Zune refuses to play them. It seems likely that this limitation will eventually prove to be rather easy to circumvent – at least for non-DRM’d songs. And if the songs aren’t really encoded with DRM, then circumvention may not be in violation of the DMCA.

Regardless, the concept of viral DRM is not dead. We’ll have more coverage on viral DRM later this week.

31 Responses to “Microsoft Insider Clarifies Zune’s Sharing Limitations”

  1. Jim says:

    So theoretically, I could have a Zune player full of songs that I can’t access and yet take up space on the drive?


  2. zune says:

    There must be some type of “clean up” command to get rid of the dead songs, otherwise they would pile up like garbage. And manual deletion could be tedius.

  3. I’m not sure that I actually understand the useful distinction between wrapping a song in DRM that keeps you from playing the song after three days, and just having a player that refuses to play any inboxed content after three days. Neither feature appears to be anything that any consumer would like, regardless of whether it violates either the term or spirit of the Creative Commons license. I have a flash drive which contains about 512M )soon to be 1gb, thanks to falling flash memory prices) of Creative Commons licensed content that I carry around, transfer among my various machines, and give away on request, all in accordance with the license under which the material was released. The fact that the Zune chooses to interpose its idea of sharing in between me and my community over my wishes and the wishes of the original content providers does not seem like a feature I’m willing to pay for.

  4. Sean says:

    Maybe we need to update the koan – If a song is a 3 day old file and metadata does it make a sound?

  5. Zune Forums says:

    i’m thinking maybe your right. this device is not made for everyone. but there are at least a billion people out there that don’t give a damn for any of this DRM stuff.

    It appears to me that this device is set for a younger generation that does enjoy sharing with each other and will when necessary buy content. I can’t quote stats but I’m thinking Microsoft knows that a small percentage of the available market even knows how to spell DRM. They know there is a market for this device and others to follow and they will offer up features and services that consumers want.

    The flaming theory of Viral DRM has fizzled out. There is no DRM on free works.

  6. Kirk says:

    Zune Forums:

    Your right on at least one point. The masses don’t have a clue what DRM is. They will, though, once they’ve been burned by it. That takes time, and Zune is likely just one small step in the larger DRM battle.

    Your wrong about the fact that there are no DRM free works. Check out eMusic – a huge selection of great music and it’s all reasonably priced and DRM free.

    Oh, and what about all of those DRM free CD’s that are sold every year?

  7. Laer says:

    Lame lame lame. Nice try though. Peace out.

  8. Laer says:

    (That was meant for “Zune Forums”.)

  9. Rich.Y says:

    I thought the PlaysForSure was their DRM, and that was disabled in this device. Is this a new schema?

  10. Kirk says:

    Rich – PlaysForSure is history. Microsoft has abandoned it for a new DRM system. They say they’re still supporting PlaysForSure, but their PlaysForSure partners seem to have doubts and are making other plans.

  11. Shawn Oster says:

    As much as I hate DRM, and I don’t buy DRM’d music, I find nothing wrong with the Zune’s 3-day/play sharing system.

    If I buy a non-DRM’d song off of eMusic and you like it then you should go buy it. Lack of DRM does *not* mean it should be given away.

    If I’m showing off a friend’s band’s songs, ones that are distributed via a Creative Commons license I probably also want to get you interested in the band, not just a single song. Meaning if you really liked the song then after 3 plays you’ll hop online, hit up their website, download the non-locked version and hopefully learn a bit more about the band.

    The whole reason I hate DRM is that I should be able to listen to the music I’ve purchased where and when I want to listen to it. In my car, on my Sonos system, on a Zune, through Media Center, on the cheap no-name DAP I won in a content, on an iPod, etc. Nothing about the Zune sharing scheme prevents that.

    Of course that means I’ll never buy music from the Zune Marketplace just like I’ll never touch iTunes or URGE but that’s a completely seperate issue from the 3-day/play bit.

  12. Paul says:

    Let’s accept for a second that DRM should be legally allowed as a restriction imposed by the copyright holder. Given that assumption, the playback device has no business imposing any additional or different restrictions than the copyright holder did.

    But let’s call a spade a spade. It is pretty finely sliced semantics to say that there is no DRM in the machine because it isn’t software doing it. So what is doing it? Firmware? DRM is DRM. If there is a 3 day restriction imposed by the device, it is by definition DRM, it just isn’t virally attached to the file.

    But, my guess is that if you extract that file (assuming you can) and try to play it on a PC, that won’t work either. If it does, then there is no way to stop me from moving files to my PC and then back to my Zune to enable the tunes for 3 more days. All in all, more lame anti-consumer product design from Microsoft.

  13. Kirk says:

    Paul – There’s always a way to extract the file. And as soon as the Zune becomes widely available I’m sure a lot of people are going to be taking a look at this feature. If those files from the inbox are not playable in their native format then there’s no question that DRM has been applied. On the other hand, if they are playable in their native format then it means the Zune has been crippled.

    Unfortunately it looks like we’ll need to wait for the Zune to find out. Which is sort of convenient for Microsoft, considering they probably want this conversation to end asap.

  14. Paul says:

    Kirk – Agreed on both points. The thing that makes no sense to me is why Microsoft would waste their money building a machine that no one will buy because it isn’t compatible with de facto standards (iTunes) and doesn’t offer any real additional value. Zune isn’t a disruptive technology in any way, they can’t offer it for free or bundle it with the OS (like they did with IE), nor do they have Steve Jobs’ coolness factor, so how can they take on a vendor that already has 75% market share?

    The only sensible thing to do is to abandon any DRM restrictions altogether, otherwise there is no compelling reason to choose this product over any other, and lots of reasons not to. I don’t need any market research to tell me that there is no prospect for ever recovering their development costs on this product.

  15. Harvey says:

    If it’s hardware-only DRM, couldn’t you accept a song from another Zune (with the 3-day, 3-play limitations); then upload the song to your PC, and re-download it to your Zune as an unprotected version?
    I can’t see why that wouldn’t work if the DRM is hardware-only and doesn’t add DRM to the .MP3 or .WMA file directly.

    – Harvey

  16. Kassia says:

    The masses may not know what DRM is, but they know that limiting possibilities isn’t for them. Napster is up for sale — the model failed. Maybe it was bad timing, maybe it was the price. My guess is that the consumers couldn’t relate to the “rent-a-music” scheme being offered. And, sadly, once the consumer discovers that DRM limits their ability to enjoy media, they will (again) seek out alternatives that suit them. I’ve always maintained that Napster (original) and like services didn’t thrive so much because they were free but because they were diverse. iTunes (love it, hate it, live with it) has proven that people are willing to pay for product, as long as it’s offered on their own terms.

    Or mostly on their own terms — I like eMusic’s model as well, though I’m curious to hear from musicians about how the money is.

  17. ihatemicrosoft says:

    so why do people think this feature will set the zune apart from the ipod? it angers me that people say the zune will be ‘better’ than the ipod because of sharing capabilities…. did you watch that ellen d…. chat host talk about sharing capabilities? and then all the audience screemed out??? what they didnt say was anything about the three times/3 days usage, would they have all gone crazy then??? I DONT THINK SO

  18. Finite says:

    Ever think maybe the Zune is actually a satire of the iPod? Maybe they’ve got so much money they can afford to completely shit on their playsforsure partners just to make a mockery of themselves, Apple, DRM music platforms, and the sucka fools who buy it all. Maybe someone there completely lost it, and everything we have heard about Zune so far is just a big joke.

    I mean, can you really look at this device’s DRM functions and give me a better explanation?

    (3day/3play limit on unprotected files that get shared over wireless, can’t playback content from playsforsure DRM partners)

  19. Mark says:

    Can you reload songs via sharing for a second time, third time… fiftieth time? Can you use a line out to record one of the 3 plays? Lots of unanswered questions about Zune. You’d think the record companies would want to know these answers.

  20. Kirk says:

    Mark: Those are questions that will be answered when the device is released. I’m sure there will be plenty of creative work-arounds for Zune’s limitations.

    I’m also pretty certain that the record companies are aware of the 3×3 file sharing. The limitation sounds like something they might have dreamed up.

    Kids just love it when their music expires.

  21. Mark says:

    Yeah, I’m sure they know about the 3/3. I’m basically saying they will rue the day they went along with this. Apple should push them to let iPods share songs via a cable. Songs purchased from iTunes could be kept for 4 days/5 plays. Copy your friends entire library in a few seconds. As for the non-DRM songs, well there’s no way to upload them from an iPod to your computer is there? 😉 Sharing and ways around it might push everyone away from legal downloads.

  22. Yasir says:

    Hey all

    I’m aiming to get a zune i was wondering if i download illegal song from limewire kazza bearshare and stuff like that is it playable on zune or do all the song have to be purchased from teh zune marketplace

    And if you send ppl song they recieve them in their inbox then they cant be played after three day isnt their a way in which yo extract the song from the inbox and paste it along with you other songs

  23. bob says:

    so does that mean I can put a non-drm song onto the zune and it will get covered with drm or i wont be able to play it?

  24. pasz says:

    SO if i hav a created song and send it to someone they can only have it for 3 days, retarded

  25. Carlos says:

    I’m not really in to all that drm stuff, so what does Zune do to non-drm files on my harddisk? If I transfer them via Zune-Software to the Zune and then back to my PC, will these files be “infected” with drm??


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