Scoble's point, if I understand it, is that we are going to spend a bundle acquiring music from "legit" services like the iTunes Music Store and the upcoming Microsoft music store. If we spend hundreds of dollars on digital music, we should be on the lookout to protect and maximise that investment. I agree.
Well, says Scoble, all of the music that we buy from these legit services is going to have DRM use-restriction technology ("See, when you buy music from a service like Apple's iTunes or Napster (or MSN), it comes with DRM attached."). So the issue becomes "choosing between two competing lockin schemes."
And in that choice, says Scoble, Microsoft wins, because it has more licensees of its proprietary, lock-in format. That means that when you want to play your music in your car, it's more likely that you'll find a car-stereo manufacturer that has paid Microsoft to play Microsoft music than that you'll find one that has coughed up to Apple to play Apple music.
And this is the problem with Scoble's reasoning. We have a world today where we can buy CDs, we can download DRM-music, we can download non-DRM music from legit services, we can download "pirate" music from various services, and we can sometimes defeat DRM using off-the-shelf apps for Linux (which has a CD recovery tool that handily defeats CD DRM), the Mac (with tools like AudioHijack that make it easy to convert DRM music to MP3s or other open formats) and Windows (I assume, since I don't use Windows, but as Scoble points out, there's lots of Windows software out there.).
In this world where we have consumer choices to make, Scoble argues that our best buy is to pick the lock-in company that will have the largest number of licensees.
That's just about the worst choice you can make.
If I'm going to protect my investment in digital music, my best choice is clearly to invest in buying music in a format that anyone can make a player for. I should buy films, not kinetoscopes. I should buy VHS, not Betamax. I should buy analog tape, not DAT.
Because Scoble's right. If you buy Apple Music or if you buy Microsoft Music, you're screwed if you want to do something with that music that Apple or Microsoft doesn't like.
Copyright law has never said that the guy who makes the records gets to tell you what kind of record player you can use. If Scoble and his employer want to offer a product with "features" that their customers want, those features should reflect what their customers want: No Windows user rolled out of bed this morning and said, "I wish there was a way that I could get Microsoft to deliver me tools that allow me to do less with the music I buy."
No, the "customer" for Microsoft DRM is the guy who makes the records: the music industry; and not the gal who buys the records: you. That customer has already told Microsoft how it feels about its products: in the Broadcast Flag negotiation, the movie companies locked Microsoft DRM out of consideration for use in next-generation PVRs in favor of DRM that Sony (also a movie company, surprise, surprise) had a patent for.
Microsoft is selling out its customers to people who aren't even buying. Scoble points out that Microsoft licensed the hell out of its OS to hardware vendors, pioneering a new kind of open-ness. He's right. Microsoft set a good example that Apple has been too stupid to follow, and it's time for the company to do it again. When Microsoft shipped its first search-engine (which makes a copy of every page it searches), it violated the letter of copyright law. When Microsoft made its first proxy server (which makes a copy of every page it caches), it broke copyright law. When Microsoft shipped its first CD-ripping technology, it broke copyright law.
It broke copyright law because copyright law was broken. Copyright law changes all the time to reflect the new tools that companies like Microsoft invent. If Microsoft wants to deliver a compelling service to its customers, let it make general-purpose tools that have the side-effect of breaking Sony and Apple's DRM, giving its customers more choice in the players they use. Microsoft has shown its willingness to go head-to-head with antitrust people to defend its bottom line: next to them, the copyright courts and lawmakers are pantywaists, Microsoft could eat those guys for lunch, exactly the way Sony kicked their asses in 1984 when they defended their right to build and sell VCRs, even though some people might do bad things with them. Just like the early MP3 player makers did when they ate Sony's lunch by shipping product when Sony wouldn't.
But forget Microsoft, because Scoble's not talking about the best thing for Microsoft, he's talking about the best thing for you. The best way to protect your investment in music. Without a doubt, the best way to protect that investment is to only buy music that isn't in a lock-in format, and to break the locks on any music you do own, while you can. Scoble asks what you will do if "Apple doesn't make a system that plays its AAC format in a car stereo?" I'll tell you what you should do: you should get yourself tools to turn AACs into OGGs or MP3s right now, so that you can buy any car stereo you want and play your music on it. If you can't get those tools, you shouldn't buy AACs (Student: "What do I do if three thugs follow me down a dark deserted street in the middle of the night?" "Master: Don't walk down a dark deserted street in the middle of the night.")
Microsoft can pursue the bone-stupid strategy of kowtowing to the music labels instead of delivering the tools its customers want, but it's a dead end. When Sony invented the VCR, it did so after the movie companies had already decreed that they would only license their movies for use on the "Discovision," a hunk of shit best forgotten on the trashheap of history (much like the products that Sony later delivered instead of MP3 walkmen). With the VCR, though, Sony delivered what its customers wanted, and the movie companies got rich off of it, dragged kicking and screaming to the money-tree again.
Now, that's grandiose. Now that's visionary. Next to that, Microsoft's fraidy-cat technology is suicidally stupid, and so are you if you invest in it. Protect your investment. Vote with your wallet. Buy open. Link
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.