A Legitimate Reason to Hate the Zune (And Microsoft Too)

by Chris Seibold Nov 10, 2006

Imagine you’re in your local computer store contemplating buying a printer. You’ve researched the situation carefully, calculated how often you print versus print cartridge capacity, factored in print quality and have concluded that the Rifle AllinOne Mound of Ugly is perfect for your needs. The tag says $99 but when you get to the counter the cashier hits you for $150. Troubled, you query the cashier as to the nature of the discrepancy. The cashier informs you that the extra fifty is going to magazine publishers. Intrigued, you inquire further. The cashier explains (to the growing annoyance of the people behind you) that since there is scanner built into the printer that you might decide to scan an article without permission. Hence the fifty bucks is there to help the troubled magazine publishers. You protest. You aver that the only magazines you read are old issues of The Spy and that mag is out of print. The cashier counters by saying that it isn’t an optional fee, if you want the printer you’re paying the $#@#damned fee. You decide to pay. You’ve been treated like a criminal but, on the bright side, you’ve got a new printer and you’ve learned something: don’t talk to the cashier and hold up the line, people hate that.

Obviously the scenario is ridiculous, no one would expect to be charged extra because of something they might do with said equipment. For example, if one went into a store and bought a bag of Apples and a big box of razor blades on October 30* would a reasonable person expect to pay an up charge because those razor blades might go into the apples which could then be distributed to trick or treaters? Oddly enough, that is precisely what is happening with the Zune, though instead of hitting you with the fee at the register the tax on illegal usage will be hidden in the price tag.

Here’s the situation: Microsoft has agreed to pay a portion of the profits from the sales of the Zune to a record company (Universal) because the Zune will undoubtedly be used to store unpurchased songs. It is something record company executives have made noise about before but something that was laughed away as ludicrous. Microsoft wasn’t laughing when Universal asked, they just smiled and said “sure” (presumably they’ll ask for a kiss and cuddles later).

Here it is important to remember a few simple things. The money goes to the Universal, not to the artists. It could be that Universal will share the profits fairly with the artists and it could also come to pass that the Middle East will become a placid, uncontentious place. The second thing to remember is that since Universal got a slice of the profits every other record company will seek the same treatment. The final thing to keep in mind is that people don’t mind artists getting paid but they positively loathe the idea of forking over cash to what is largely regarded as an industry not fueled by motivation to give the consumers what they want but by a sincere desire to screw the end user out of as much cash as possible. So there is nothing remotely fair about the situation, legit users get to share the burden with the download addicted, bands won’t get paid and the profit model of the record companies is perpetuated: don’t make a more compelling product, find new ways to seperate people from their cash.

Obvious objections aside, the reality is that music execs are going to be getting a slice of the Zune pie for doing nothing more than whining loudly. Hence it makes sense to get used to the idea of paying for perceived infrinements instead of actual misuse. It is at this point we realize that the executives are leaving a large chunk of money on the table. The Zune, the iPod and every other digital player follow a pretty recognizable pattern: Wrap storage (either flash or hard drive space) in something sufficiently attractive, mix in a battery, a few specialized chips, a port for the ear phones and viola, a Digital Audio Player. You could do it yourself. Since DAPs are so simple stripped of the hype, it is time for the record execs to get what they have coming. First thing: Record companies should now get a cut of every hard drive sold. That is just common sense, the amount of music illegally downloaded far outstrips the combined storage of all DAPs sold and all that data has to be somewhere. That somewhere is computer hard drives. No hard drives, no piracy. They also deserve a cut on each piece of flash memory sold, a lot of flash memory is used in the shuffle and the nano and those things are just crammed to bursting full of non purchased music. Finally, every screen sold should earn the movie studios a piece of the pie as well, no screen means no watching pirated DVDs.

Microsoft’s move sets a bad precedent and turns all consumers into thieves without evidence. For the time being one can argue that the agreement is not going to monetarily impact consumers because Microsoft is absorbing the hit. If the Zune prevails over the iPod that won’t last long, the cost will quickly be directly paid by the consumer. Think of it as a tax for being a criminal even if every song on your DAP came from your purchased CD collection. As annoying as DRM is in general at least customers had a choice not to purchase protected songs, soon they will pay for music they didn’t even pirate just by buying a Zune. On the other hand, if you buy a Zune you should feel absolutely free to steal any songs published by Universal, you paid the tax after all. You filthy criminal.

*Something I do every year, so far no one has noticed. I suppose they think that I really like apples and shaving.


  • Somewhere down the road, when all recording companies get a cut of each Zune sold, some enterprising lawyer will argue that since Zune owners are paying an implicit licensing fee to the recording companies then they can’t accuse anyone of unauthorized downloads of music into their Zunes.

    You can’t demand and accept payment for something and then claim that thing was stolen from you!  If you are going to claim the music is pirated, then don’t demand payments for it!  In advance no less!!

    If I charge a burglar a fee for burglarizing my house, and he pays up, is it burglary or legitimate commerce?

    tundraboy had this to say on Nov 13, 2006 Posts: 132
  • In Germany there have been such fees for many years now: customers have to pay them for copiers, scanners, printers (I think so) and of course of mp3-players as the iPod. But: you don’t notice it since these fees are included in the products’ prices. They’re not that high, but it’s a question of principles. And of course will we have to pay these fees even when there are no more cds to be copied legally… it’s bull***t!

    manuel had this to say on Nov 14, 2006 Posts: 1
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