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.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Know real Business, Jan 4th, 2008 @ 6:19pm

    What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for Apple..

    So I guess TechDirt is also against all the lawsuits against Microsoft over the Windows market dominance. This was coming because Apple by giving people a product they like has kept a near monopoly on the music player market. try getting accessories etc for other players.

    But like was the case with Microsoft, they have used the iPod to to protect their iTunes business, actually breaking attempts by Real Media to give iPod owners a choice.

    IPods are nice units but a refuse to be locked into a closed system where I have one model. Pay by song we have two Sansas we love with subscriptions to Rhapsody so I can try and listen to almost anything in a 2 million + dong library for a flat rate.

    I always thought iPod users were almost suckers for getting locked into buying DRM music that they can lose have have to buy again etc. Vs just honestly renting 2 million songs.

    The Ipod gets better if it can use services like Rhapsody, or iTunes gets better if it can work with other players.

    The lawsuit actually unlike some of the anti-microsoft lawsuits would help iPod owners..by giving them choice. It is a good thing unless we want to un ring the bell and stop harassing Microsoft for also being successful. You can't have both.. total freedom for Apple when it dominates and restrictions for Microsoft when it dominates. Which will it be? Free Market or "Fair" market. Choose...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    allan (profile), Jan 4th, 2008 @ 6:41pm

    Re: What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for Appl

    Your logic is a bit flawed in that argument. The lawsuits against M$ have to do with their leveraging the dominance they have in the OS market to push some of their other products and not allowing users to easily choose an alternate piece of software... i.e. bundling everything under the sun with the OS so normal non-geek users don't even know that there IS a competitor for that function.
    The iPod is definitely dominant in it's niche, but the alternatives are countless - you yourself have two Sansas, and you can go get a no-name 1 gig player at any drug store for like $19. The choices are out there and thriving, but Apple's product has the features and design the the majority of users appear to prefer. As long as you can take your own music and add it in to your iPod, there is no confilct or leverage being applied. If you don't like shopping at the iTunes store you can buy the cd. Forcing Apple to use the WMA structure is like forcing Sony to make the PS3 play HD-DVD as well as Blu-Ray, which is to say, dumb.

    p.s. - you may be able to listen to anything in "a 2 million + dong library" , but i bet they all sound about the same :)
    that's gotta be the best typo I've seen this week!

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Jan 4th, 2008 @ 7:28pm

    My Muvo by Creative Labs...

    ...cost about 23 bucks, including tax, after the rebate, and it works with every format that I've tried to far... It's supposed to work with DRM-protected music files, but gives you insructions on how to get around that if it doesn't want to play. So I have two gigs for twenty bucks with no restrictions... That means the Ipod is really just a status symbol, like an overpriced polo from Dilliards... Ohhh, let's sue Dilliards for selling the most over-priced polos shirts... Oh, wait, less than 50% of shoppers are stupid enough to pay that much money for what they can get elsewhere for cheap... Hmm... Whoda thunk?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Hellsvilla, Jan 4th, 2008 @ 8:02pm

    oh hell no...

    Keep that bloody awful codec off my ipod, please

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    steve ballmer, Jan 4th, 2008 @ 10:19pm

    Case has Merit!

    Apple has the vast majority position (for now) they should be like Microsoft and be friendlier to their rivals!

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Ernestas, Jan 4th, 2008 @ 11:09pm

    Re: Re: What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for

    Apple and Microsoft both have dominance in their own market. Like ...lets say Ford lets users to choose Engine from 100 Hp to 250 Hp, diesel or not, but do not let user to choose Engine from Toyota. "Gives everything bundled".

    Should Microsoft let user to choose vendor for Notepad (do not install into system their own by default), ...Start buton, Explorer, IE, GUI, File System (NTFS), Networking components, .NET ?

    Does your Nokia has preinstalled media player, is it a problem, is Nokia dominant in Symbian
    market ?
    ...Or may be it is just because of my choice of the market definition ?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Confused Reader, Jan 4th, 2008 @ 11:18pm

    Dong Library

    Know real Business,
    What's a "dong library"?
    I own an Ipod. Not one of the tunes on it is protected by a DRM scheme of any kind. Instead, all of my "chunes" are in a little-known format that goes by the moniker "MP3." Perhaps you have heard of it? In fact, all of the devices I own, including ones I DON'T own, support this rare, never-mentioned-before format...

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Paul`, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 12:56am

    Ridiculous

    well thats just getting silly. How can they demand that Apple buys a license off of another company so they can include a proprietary codec on their units?

    Seriously if people want to use these codecs get another player. I have a Iriver E10 and it is excellent. And if they don't want to swap because they can't use their itunes music on other players or something maybe they should have got the music from a place without DRM.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Pete, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 1:17am

    if we follow the logic on this lawsuit then I should be able to sue Honda for not giving me the option of getting a chev engine in a Civic

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Soon to be flamed, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 2:45am

    I have a feeling that the fanboi's will flame me out but, lets be honest if MS came out with the ipod and itunes and it would have been as popular people on this site would be up in arms about how evil they are. Apple has gotten people to think that an mp3 player equals an ipod. If you even mention you have an mp3 player to most everyday people they will think you have an ipod even though their are other options as will be the defense. (PS there's other OS's out there as a lot of posters point out on EVERY MS post)

    Apple has gotten a lot of people to purchase a lot of songs on itunes that can be used on no other player and they do refuse to let anyone else license their codec to be played (even the non DRM'd songs). So now that someone has purchased a couple hundred dollars in song you can only buy an ipod to listen to the music away from your computer. But your all right. That's not being locked into something is it?

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 4:07am

    OK look. The reason microsoft was sued over anti-trust was not all this shits. It was because they used their market leverage to make sure the only computers sold on intel chips by big manufacturers were Microsoft products. That is why. So please try again. I have an IPOD. The reason they got popular is because they used excellent components and have always had the best sound. That is why they are expensive. People bought into them after the audiophiles did because they are cute, but that does not change the fact that apple has kept a high standard for the music output on an IPOD. As long as it supports mp3, does it really matter what other formats it supports? I refuse to buy into any DRM scheme so boo hoo for the suckers that do.

    It not supporting OGG has bothered me but its not a huge issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Mike, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 4:22am

    Re:

    In reply to about to be flamed, It is Itune's fault that their music only works with ipod. ipod users can get their music from other sources. If ipod users want the ease of getting it from itunes then they have to live with the fact that it won't work with another brand of player.

    If you follow the previously used analogies of a car and engine: Its like a Camaro owner buying a new engine then deciding they don't like the car anymore and getting pissed that their LS1 chevy engine doen't work in their Honda or what ever.

    It seems to me that most ipod owners upgrade to a better ipod because they like ipod, or the status of having an ipod, and don't even think about other brands.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Chuck, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 6:28am

    Re: Re:

    OMG!!! I love iTunes. Can you Zune work with it pl0x???

    Oh wait... it doesn't.

    And what you said about the song... might as well start setting up a RAID1 as well. If it dies, it all dies.

    I'm confused about your analogy. It counters your first paragraph.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Kevin, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 7:20am

    Let Apple feel Microsoft's Pain

    Apple has been bashing Microsoft for a long time as the underdog but now they are a leader in an area and as a leader, you are going to have to start making concessions for anti-trust. People could always go to Apple or Linux but the anti-trust lawsuits on Microsoft continuted. Now its Apple's time to open up and do things it would rather not.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Chuck is an Idiot, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 7:27am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Raid 1 is mirrored, Raid 0 is all or nothing, get a clue, maybe keep it on you ipod.

    PS: Ipods play anything drm or not, if you have a clue you can show all files on your ipod and transfer off to any other device, if your clue allows you can also copy directly from one ipod to another.

    Obviously a lot of folks who's clue do not extend that far.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Doug, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 10:39am

    Re: oh hell no...

    Have you actually tried WMA, or are you just spewing forth the mindless babble circulated by anti-Microsoft bigots? My guess is the latter, but I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I spent days comparing the different codecs out there in a professional audio studio environment... (MP3, WMA, AAC, Ogg) And guess what... WMA actually sounded better than the other codecs I tried. It removed less of the original music than even AAC and Ogg, keeping more of the original material than the others. MP3, was, of course, by far the worst, and admitedly AAC and Ogg weren't far behind WMA at equal bitrates, but to say that WMA is a bad codec is just ignorance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    allan (profile), Jan 5th, 2008 @ 11:31am

    Re: What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for Appl

    Your logic is a bit flawed in that argument. The lawsuits against M$ have to do with their leveraging the dominance they have in the OS market to push some of their other products and not allowing users to easily choose an alternate piece of software... i.e. bundling everything under the sun with the OS so normal non-geek users don't even know that there IS a competitor for that function.
    The iPod is definitely dominant in it's niche, but the alternatives are countless - you yourself have two Sansas, and you can go get a no-name 1 gig player at any drug store for like $19. The choices are out there and thriving, but Apple's product has the features and design the the majority of users appear to prefer. As long as you can take your own music and add it in to your iPod, there is no confilct or leverage being applied. If you don't like shopping at the iTunes store you can buy the cd. Forcing Apple to use the WMA structure is like forcing Sony to make the PS3 play HD-DVD as well as Blu-Ray, which is to say, dumb.

    p.s. - you may be able to listen to anything in "a 2 million + dong library" , but i bet they all sound about the same :)
    that's gotta be the best typo I've seen this week!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    allan, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 11:32am

    Re: Re: What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for

    ergh, sorry for the double post, screen refreshed backwards on accident

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Debasis Goswami, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 12:29pm

    Re: oh hell no...

    I learnt WMA is a better codec in terms of technology.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    His Shadow, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 1:20pm

    Give Me A Break Already

    Kevin on Jan 5th, 2008 @ 7:20am

    Apple has been bashing Microsoft for a long time as the underdog but now they are a leader in an area and as a leader, you are going to have to start making concessions for anti-trust.


    No, they are not, because none these anti-trust claims against Apple have the slightest bit of merit. Apple did not force anything on anyone. Period. If you and the other posters in here are incapable of understanding the difference between Microsoft's illegal monopoly and Apple's market success, you simply do not know what you are talking about. It's really that simple.

    Apple survived and thrived. Unlike the fully documented monopolistic practices and abuse of consumers and partners Microsoft has engaged in for decades, Apple has competed solely on merit and is wildly successful. Now we are supposed to care about the legions of whiny droids whose doom and gloom forecasts have not come to pass?

    Get over yourselves. The only concessions Apple will have to make is to accept that a fair majority of the so called tech journalists have irrational biases against Apple and have been doing everything in their power to present every little snag as the latest death knell for Apple, it's stock and it's products. The same clowns who predicted complete and utter failure for the iPhone will run themselves ragged pretending this idiotic lawsuit is in anyway valid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Tim Lee, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 1:29pm

    Re: What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for Appl

    Well, I can't speak for everyone at Techdirt, but I certainly have argued that some of the antitrust actions against Microsoft have gone overboard.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    EP, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 3:14pm

    MP3 is just allright with me

    The iPod is cute, patent that! You like cute, you go with their choice of evils and codecs and those damn uncomfortable ear buds. But iPods do work with MP3s and that's enough.

    Everything on my iPod is an MP3. Is not the purpose of all DRM to help strip any remaining heart and soul out of any music artists? (imagine my surprise that artists would be vulnerable to greed & paranoia in lieu of alcohol, drugs, narcissism, and the many other temptations of performing and or stardom)

    MP3 is a gift from the Gods, despite what Thomson Consumer Electronics and the Fraunhofer Institute may say. All MP3 patents expire by 2017, from what I understand, but that's a long time for progress to wait.

    I imagine I'm not the only technophile or audiophile that feels some frustration with all the codecs motivated for competitive advantage, or to overcome proprietary and legal restrictions, rather than for technical improvement. How many different codecs for music do we really need?

    What's worse? If I try to send an MP3 file to my Blackberry (on Verizon's network) the carrier intercepts it, and it never arrives. Now I find that highly angering, much more offensive than Apple not supporting WMA, or maybe even DCMA; but the carrier is out to maximize profits, not make friends, and they figure maybe they can sell me that music (Answer for me: Nope. I just don't listen to music on the "defective" phone - err Verizon network.)

    So all kinds of levels of bad behavior, but the folks that make technology and implement it won't do so without sufficient economic motivation.

    Just give me MP3s, an MP3 that player that goes to 11.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    futureb, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 7:44pm

    you don't know squat about antitrust law

    so why post on it? antitrust law does not exist just to "prevent the abuse of actual monopolies like Ma Bell." go read up on it. seriously. the sherman and clayton acts prohibit all sorts of anticompetitive behavior that have nothing to do with having a market share over 50%. first, a company doesn't have to be an "actual monopoly like Ma Bell" for private plaintiffs or the govt to enforce the antitrust laws. second, just because there is competition for the ipod doesn't mean that apple is not violating the antitrust laws by denying access to competitive formats. i find a lot of good links on this site and enjoy reading the posts. but you should really find out what you're talking about before posting on something.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Kent, Jan 5th, 2008 @ 9:17pm

    I'm really perplexed by this.

    1. I havent used WMA in a while but, while it doesnt have as many noticeable artifacts, the average bitrate stuff seems dull and lifeless. In all fairness, it was probably a very old version of the codec because I'm referencing the CD ripping cabability on the original XBOX.

    2. I have had several MP3 players that don't play WMA, protected or not, so why attack the iPod because it doesn't... because its the most popular? Consumers made it the most popular, if you want something that plays WMA, don't buy a &#@!ing iPod. If I bought an iPod (never owned one) and HOPED it would play my WMAs then found out it didnt i would think "oh well that was silly of me". The end.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Trevlac, Jan 6th, 2008 @ 4:20am

    Re: What's fair for Microsoft is now Fair for Appl

    You can get accessories for other players, it's called Best Buy.

    Real doesn't have any better of a system down than Apple. You want to argue against this Tech Dirt article because you dislike the way apple handles DRM. Real is exactly the same in a different colored package; in the end it's still DRM. Instead of being closed minded, why not try DRM-free music like eMusic? $0.33 a song that you actually own 100%. There's several others and I'm sure with a good five minutes of quality time spent with father Google, you could find many more.

    For that matter, if you're going to support a format addition don't support a horrible one that no one uses or likes like WMA. Try something a little better like OGG vorbis. It's open source and has really good quality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Captain Nemo, Jan 6th, 2008 @ 5:20am

    Re: Let Apple feel Microsoft's Pain

    Let Apple feel Apple's pain, and Microsoft feel Microsoft's pain. I've been bashing them both for quite a while, but Microsoft is STILL much much worse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Captain Nemo, Jan 6th, 2008 @ 5:23am

    Re: MP3 is just allright with me

    MP3's are super. They're my favorite lossy format. I like FLAC better, but what're you going to do? I got an 80Gb, so I can put all of my musics on it uncompressed. By CD's. Honestly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Tim Lee, Jan 6th, 2008 @ 6:04am

    Re: you don't know squat about antitrust law

    I wasn't venturing a legal opinion on whether this lawsuit was likely to succeed. I was offering an opinion about public policy: that antitrust law is frequently invoked in cases where market competition is more than enough to protect consumers. Maybe this woman's case is likely to succeed on the legal merits. But if so, that's an argument for changing the law in my book.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Johnny, Jan 6th, 2008 @ 8:24am

    You sounded like a rank amateur blogger or random forum poster when you started off with legal advice coupled with some high and mighty I am a blogger I know all thing.

    You are blantantly trying to manipulate interpretation of the law into reflecting your personal political and social utopia.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    JustMatt, Jan 6th, 2008 @ 11:26am

    Deciding not to support a random codec

    is not a monopolistic practice, it is a business decision. Should Home Depot be sued for not stocking Lowe's house-brand products, or the Microsoft Store on the Redmond campus for not stocking Macs? Of course not.

    The judge is going to toss this out without needing to hear motions, I think.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Wolferz (profile), Jan 6th, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Give Me A Break Already

    "Apple did not force anything on anyone. Period."

    Neither did MS. There are alternatives to every product MS bundles with Windows. Usually there are better alternatives, sometimes there is not.

    I'm not saying they are not a monopoly or even monopolistic. Just pointing out your incorrect statement... one I see a lot of people use as the entire and only foundation for their Anti-MS Fanboyism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    SailorRipley, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 8:23am

    Re: My Muvo by Creative Labs...

    So I have two gigs for twenty bucks

    I have 80 gigs and it didn't cost me 23 times 40, 920 bucks...

    who do you think bought an overpriced mp3 player? Hmm... Whoda thunk?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Davin Peterson, Jan 13th, 2008 @ 3:05pm

    Creative Zen supports WMA, better than iPod

    If you want a player that supports WMV, WAV and WMA and works with Windows Media Player then check out the Creative Zen. Creative invented the iPod interface, which Apple stole for use on the iPod.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    aslam, Feb 23rd, 2008 @ 11:47pm

    cable

    Verizon DSL, FIOS, ATT DSL, BT Broadband, Talk Talk Broadband, Comcast Cable net, Tiscali Broadband, Time Warner Cable, AOL Broadband.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    aslam, Feb 24th, 2008 @ 12:03am

    cable

    Verizon DSL, FIOS, ATT DSL, BT Broadband, Talk Talk Broadband, Comcast Cable net, Tiscali Broadband, Time Warner Cable, AOL Broadband.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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