Microsoft’s Zune Won’t Play Protected Windows Media

In yesterday’s announcement of the new Zune media player and Zune Marketplace, Microsoft (and many press reports) glossed over a remarkable misfeature that should demonstrate once and for all how DRM and the DMCA harm legitimate customers.

Microsoft’s Zune will not play protected Windows Media Audio and Video purchased or “rented” from Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited, Movielink, Cinemanow, or any other online media service. That’s right — the media that Microsoft promised would Play For Sure doesn’t even play on Microsoft’s own device. Buried in footnote 4 of its press release, Microsoft clearly states that “Zune software can import audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264″ — protected WMA and WMV (not to mention iTunes DRMed AAC) are conspicuously absent.

This is a stark example of DRM under the DMCA giving customers a raw deal. Buying DRMed media means you’re locked into the limited array of devices that vendors say you can use. You have to rebuy your preexisting DRMed media collection if you want to use it on the Zune. And you’ll have to do that over and over again whenever a new, incompatible device with innovative features blows existing players out of the water. Access to MP3s and non-DRMed formats creates the only bridge between these isolated islands of limited devices.

The real culprit here is the DMCA — but for that bad law, customers could legally convert DRMed files into whatever format they want, and tech creators would be free to reverse engineer the DRM to create compatible devices. Even though those acts have traditionally been and still are non-infringing, the DMCA makes them illegal and stifles fair use, innovation, and competition.

May this be a lesson to those who mistakenly laud certain DRM as “open” and offering customers “freedom of choice” simply because it is widely-licensed. With DRM under the DMCA, nothing truly plays for sure, regardless of whether you’re purchasing from Apple, Microsoft, or anyone else.

Take action now to support DMCA reform and to stop the government from mandating more DRM.

[Postscript: In an interview with Engadget, Microsoft Zune architect J Allard pointed out that Zune has sufficient video format support, in part because there's "Lots of DVD ripping software out there that encodes to those formats, so the most popular formats out there, whether it's MPEG-4 or H.264, we'll support those." Gee, he isn't suggesting that his business model benefits from customers using tools like DeCSS or Handbrake to evade the DRM on DVDs, right? Especially since Microsoft is furiously trying to squash the FairUse4WM tool, that would seem rather hypocritical.]

(Cross-posted at DeepLinks)

15 Responses to “Microsoft’s Zune Won’t Play Protected Windows Media”

  1. Jason
    September 15th, 2006 | 5:46 pm

    And people wonder why illegal downloads thrive…

  2. Anon
    September 15th, 2006 | 6:14 pm

    Hi Derek, you are contradicting yourself and I think purposefully ignoring the inconsistencies in your anti-DRM world view.

    I quote:
    “The real culprit here is the DMCA — but for that bad law, customers could legally convert DRMed files into whatever format they want, and tech creators would be free to reverse engineer the DRM to create compatible devices. Even though those acts have traditionally been and still are non-infringing, the DMCA makes them illegal and stifles fair use, innovation, and competition. ”

    That is simply not true. DRM enables music rental services to exist. Without the protection of DRM, there is no way a company could bring you legal access to millions of tracks for $10/mo. Without DRM, their customers would (illegally!) be able to keep the music beyond the terms of their subscription.

    Reverse-engineering the DRM endagers the business models of all the music subscription services.

  3. Derek Slater
    September 15th, 2006 | 6:44 pm

    Anon, I don’t have time to explain this fully right now, but see this post:

  4. Derek Slater
    September 15th, 2006 | 6:47 pm

    Anon, I disagree, in part for reasons mentioned here:
    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/cmusings/2006/08/28#a1893

    Moreover, that is not a contradiction — regardless of the effect on the music services, the uses are still non-infringing. “Endangering a business model” does not equal copyright infringement. You might be violating a contract with the service provider, but keeping the songs after you cancel a subscription is not copyright infringement.

  5. chris
    September 15th, 2006 | 7:07 pm

    Copying music without the copyright holders express authority is the foundation of copyright! I hate it when people gloss over theft. How in the world do you justify being able to download any wma in their library for 10$ a month and doing whatever you please with it. Simply ridiculous.

  6. anon
    September 15th, 2006 | 7:18 pm

    Nice job turning Digg into a forum for your blog. Have fun watching your ad revenue permanently take a dip.

  7. Jimenes
    September 16th, 2006 | 1:09 am

    Figures a Harvard law student would make such a glaring error. Do they just pick people off the street at random?

    Just because the PlayForSure formats aren’t listed DOESN’T mean that they aren’t supported. It simply means they aren’t listed.

    Oh…and I copied your blog to a few splogs. I figured, since you hate copyright so much you wouldn’t mind if someone else made money using your content.

    Tit for tat, and all that.

  8. Damien
    September 16th, 2006 | 1:40 am

    Take note: Nope, Zunes (Or any other mp3 player other than iPods) will NEVER play iTunes-DRMed AAC. Why? Because Apple has stated over and over that they will not license their FairPlay DRM tools. It’s how they keep you locked in to iPod + iTunes, dude. You can’t take your songs anyplace else.

  9. david
    September 18th, 2006 | 9:39 am

    Why is no one questioning Microsoft for not allowing their own DRM to work on their own device. no one expected a MS device to play apple DRM files. We did expect it to play Microsoft’s “industry Standard” DRM

  10. Al
    September 18th, 2006 | 1:39 pm

    Allthough that footnote says it will play unprotected WMA it does not state it does not play protected wma content.
    The original text states it plays content that was bought according to the dmr protection that was added.
    That might well mean it plays wma audio content from playforsure online shops but not video content from amazon or cinema now.

  11. November 14th, 2006 | 8:08 am

    [...] I’m not sure which is the worst feature, the DRM wireless, the points rip off, the pirate tax, but this stands out: Microsoft’s Zune will not play protected Windows Media Audio and Video purchased or “rented” from Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited, Movielink, Cinemanow, or any other online media service. Read all about it. Now tell me DRM is good. [...]

  12. November 16th, 2006 | 6:59 pm

    [...] People are mocking the fact it doesn’t work with Windows Vista, raging about the its viral DRM, rolling their eyes about software crashes, and just plain scratching their heads that previously purchased “Microsoft PlaysForSure” DRM content, uh, doesn’t play. CNN’s morning show had a nice overview of the Zune. “Why don’t they get some decent design people… it’s clunky.” Zing. [...]

  13. Anonymous
    December 1st, 2006 | 8:55 pm

    now i’m no technology wiz and i’m not exactly up to date with all the
    technological terms of this but…

    if i buy a song for $.99, why can’t i do what i like with it
    It’s my song, so why can’t i download it to an mp3 player of my choice?

    I was seriously considering buyin a zune, but if i can’t download my songs
    from napster to it, then what’s the point?

  14. December 9th, 2006 | 9:09 am

    [...] A Copyfighter’s Musings Microsoft’s Zune Won’t Play Protected Windows Media May this be a lesson to those who mistakenly laud certain DRM as “open” and offering customers “freedom of choice” simply because it is widely-licensed. With DRM under the DMCA, nothing truly plays for sure, regardless of whether you’re purchasing from Apple, Microsoft, or anyone else. Listen to this podcast [...]

  15. C Shelton
    February 20th, 2007 | 12:26 pm

    All – I am only a consumer but as a consumer I can vote with my money and influence others purchasing decisions. We purchased a zune for our son, “upgrading” to a Zune 30GB from a series of ipods and Creative players. The exclusivity of itunes and compatibility issues with Windows Media player led us to select PlayforSure choices. Creative provided excellent lower cost solutions for our Autisic son who tends to give his player away to anyone who asks for it, or chunks it against the wall when it needed charging and refused to work. As avid MS supporters standardizing on MS solutions – we happily swapped out for Zune.

    Since then, all of our songs licensed through wallmart no longer work. Songs downloaded from Rhapsody no longer work. Windows Media player (and XP) freeze suddenly and crash when Zune is running or itunes. We hate it.