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MS in illegal music download shocker

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Back in 2004, Microsoft big cheese Steve "Ballistic" Ballmer reportedly claimed that "the most common format of music on an iPod is 'stolen'." - in the process extolling the virtue of Windows DRM which, as we all know, completely prevents piracy of any sort, anywhere, ever.

Ballmer quickly backtracked on the iPod claim and just as well, because we can exclusively reveal today that MS is apparently offering copyrighted music for free download and dissemination without regard for common IP decency and in flagrant breach of several, if not dozens, of international laws. Reader Michael Kortsen explains:

http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/results.aspx?lc=en-us&Scope=MS&Query=happy+birthday&SubmitSearch=+Go+

If you go to the above link, you will see that Microsoft is offering free illegal music downloads. Namely, MIDI versions of "Happy Birthday", which is still under copyright. Interestingly, two of the versions are labelled "Trad", as if it were a traditional tune and not the precious intellectual property of, um, whoever owns it (you're the reporter, you look it up).

Well, here's the background to "Happy Birthday": written in 1893 by Mildred Hill and her sister Patty Smith Hill, the song's original title was "Good Morning to All", intended as a schoolroom greeting. In 1924, the lyrics were amended to read "Happy Birthday to You".

The song subsequently came under the control of the Birch Tree Group, Ltd, which in 1988 offloaded the asset to Warner Communications, the current copyright holder.

The song will, in 2030, come into the public domain, but until then the bean counters down at Warner are legally entitled to a payment for any public performance. Naturally, we don't believe for a minute that lawyers backed by armed police officers are going to take to gatecrashing kiddies' birthday parties bearing tazers and writs, but surely they must find Microsoft too tempting a target?

We reckon a claim for damages in the region of $4bn is appropriate in this case. Microsoft should also be obliged to provide full details of any Microsoft Office user who downloaded "Happy Birthday" so they too can be relentlessly hounded through the courts.

It is, of course, entirely possible that MS has already struck a deal with Warner by which it can punt this cheerful ditty, in which case can it please ask the media monolith for a version which does not sound like it was knocked up by a five-year-old xylophonist in training for a career with Muzac Corporation? Thank you. ®

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