There are few problems that Congress (or almost any legislative body) addresses that they themselves didn’t create. Case in point:
Chairman of the subcommittee, Lamar Smith, criticised the Cupertino company’s failure to show up, saying: “This interoperability issue is of concern to me since consumers who bought legal copies of music from Real could not play them on an iPod. I suppose this is a good thing for Apple but perhaps not for consumers.
“Apple was invited to testify today but they chose not to appear. Generally speaking, companies with 75 per cent market share of any business, in this case the digital download market, need to step up to the plate when it comes to testifying on policy issues that impact their industry. Failure to do so is a mistake.”
In other words, it would be a shame if your nice store here were to catch fire. If you pays de boys an me some protection money, we could make sure dat never happens to ya, pal. I think actually the Mafia is more subtle than Congress.
Of course, why is it possible that Apple is able to encrypt their format so that no one else can use their hardware? Why, Congress passed a little law, called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that, among other things, made it illegal to “circumvent” copy protection, no matter how silly or needless it may be. Most companies use it to lock you in to their proprietary scheme. For example, the movie industry uses it to ensure that you can only play their DVDs in the regions they choose to sell them, wether or not this makes any sense. Another company uses it to make sure that everybody who makes software to interface with a DVD player has to pay them buckets of money and, incidentally, keep upstart DVD manufacturers out of the business and leave it for the big players. This benefits established industries who would rather not be bothered improving their products much, and consumers none.
Enter Apple. They mistook the DMCA to mean they could actually implement a copy protection scheme meant to, well, keep people from copying stuff. Their player will play other formats, but the only copy-protection scheme it uses is the one they created. And instead of using this as an excuse to foist of second-rate junk on an unsuspecting populace, they actually produced the little white doodad everybody but me seems to think is a must have, except for die-hard Nomad users who resemble Apple users of 10 years ago.
So two key ingredients are missing from Apple’s use of the DMCA. They don’t screw consumers by shipping inferior crap and using the DMCA to force them to buy it anyway, and they don’t help established players keep out newcomers. Anybody could come up with a better player and music store and beat Apple–there’s no requirement to use Apple stuff, and switching costs are still relatively low–most of the cost for 99.9% of the public will just be in switching hardware, which they tend to do anyway.
But this is not enough for those used to riding off the backs of monopoly rents protected by government force of arms, oh no. So they’ve summoned their lackeys in Congress to reinsert the feeding tube into WMA, and Congress, being the unreliable ronin they are, are offering Apple a chance to outbid the RIAA and Real Media for their votes.
To his credit, Napster CEO William Pence, has a firmer grasp of market economics than his marketers:
“It is my belief, and the essential point of my participation today, that marketplace forces will continue to drive innovation in the DRM arena with attendant consumer benefits – new ways to enjoy digital music at a variety of different price points – while also gradually ‘solving’ the interoperability problem,” he said.
So there you go. A Republican Congress grandstanding to protect you, the consumer, from a law they crafted and a Democratic President signed. And, of course, the irony of it is utterly lost on them.