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Half the music on iPods stolen, alleges Real boss

Music biz needs to get behind DRM interoperability

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Real Networks CEO Rob Glaser has tacitly alleged that iPod owners are music thieves, a claim that echoes the words of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Both companies compete directly with Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Back in October 2004, Ballmer was reported to have said: "The most common format of music on an iPod is 'stolen'." The comment came not long after Microsoft launched its Windows Media-based Plays For Sure initiative to align the various digital music providers and player makers who have adopted the WMA DRM format.

Step forward to May 2006, and UK newspaper The Guardian quotes Real's Glaser thus: "About half the music on iPods is music obtained illegitimately either from an illegal peer-to-peer networks or from ripping friends' CDs, which is illegal."

Presumably he doesn't consider that iPod owners might have ripped their own CDs. That's technically illegal too, in the UK at least, but certainly not in the same league as downloading stuff via P2P networks.

Based on anecdotal evidence, most of the songs on iPods - and, for that matter, all the other players from other manufacturers - do indeed come from users' own record collections. That, as Glaser reckons, "the average number of songs sold for the iPod is 25", is largely a result of iPods owners rediscovering CDs they bought years ago and haven't listened to until they were ripped. Apple's rising ITMS sales - Rhapsody's too - suggest that iPod owners are starting to spend more money on downloads.

Glaser's real beef with the iPod is its lack of interoperability, despite the fact that his company provides a DRM translation tool that allows songs downloaded from Real's Rhapsody music store in the US to be played on iPods.

"The music industry has made a mistake, not by agreeing to Apple's fixed-price level, which is what gets all the attention, but by allowing Apple to create devices that are not interoperable," Glaser said.

"If you want interoperable music today, there is a very easy solution: it's called stealing... it's the only way to get non-copy protected, portable, interoperable music." ®

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