Antitrust Lawsuit Wants To Force Apple To Add WMA Support To iPods
from the right-diagnosis-wrong-solution dept
We've noted a few times that people have gotten way too trigger-happy
about invoking antitrust law any time a company does something they don't like. Antitrust law is supposed to prevent the abuse of actual monopolies like Ma Bell. It's not supposed to be an all-purpose weapon to be used against any company whose market share exceeds 50 percent. A lawsuit filed on New Year's Eve claims that Apple has violated antitrust law by declining to license the WMA DRM format
from Microsoft for the iPod. There are several obvious problems with this. In the first place, while Apple has undeniably dominated the market for portable music players, there's no shortage of competition. Big companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Samsung make competing MP3 players. Consumers who don't like the formats supported by the iPod have no shortage of alternatives. Second, it's really not a good idea for the courts to be getting embroiled in technical debates over what formats devices should support. The issues involved are complicated, and the market evolves quickly. By the time the courts get around to making a final decision, the issue is likely to be ancient history. Third, it's hard to fault Apple for failing to support WMA-based DRM when even Microsoft itself broke compatibility
with its old DRM scheme when it introduced the Zune. Surely if Microsoft can't be bothered to support its own audio format, it's hard to justify forcing Apple to do so.
It's also worth noting that none of this would be an issue if the DMCA didn't give digital rights management technology the force of law. This sort of thing isn't a problem with non-DRMed music formats because there are plenty of tools out there for converting from one music format to another. Without the DMCA, there would be similar tools for converting copy-protected music to the appropriate format. But under the DMCA, such a tool would be an illegal "circumvention device." Repealing the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions is a much better solution because it would give consumers the freedom to play their music on the device of their choice without getting the courts involved in the messy business of deciding which MP3 players have to support which audio codecs.