Microsoft denies Zune copyright cop
We play both sides of the IP fence
Innovation '08 Microsoft’s senior policy counsel for copyright and trademark has firmly denied that Redmond will slip its very own copyright cop into the Zune music player. But he acknowledges the company is particularly sympathetic to the copyright battles of music labels and other publishers.
Last week, a New York Times blog reported that Ballmer and company were working on a Zune copyright cop in tandem with media giant NBC Universal. But today, during a panel discussion at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose, California, Microsoft’s Jule Sigall shot that notion down.
"It’s not true," he said, speaking alongside other industry big-wigs at the Media Access Project's Innovation '08, the first of three panels meant to explore US internet policy.
But he did tell the audience that Microsoft is careful to play both sides of the proverbial copyright fence. "We’ve got money on both sides," said Sigall, an senior official in the U.S. Copyright Office before joining Ballmer and crew.
Indeed, Microsoft depends on its own software copyrights, but it also sells consumer electronic devices – such as Xbox and the Zune – that may or may not contribute to digital piracy.
"We have a very strong and active copyright-based business that relies on very active anti-piracy efforts - a business model that relies on proprietary license models like copyright, where we ask people to pay us for a copy of the software we provide them," Sigall explained. "On the other hand, we have very large and growing – and future - businesses that license content, that deliver content of other people to consumers."
The end result, according to Sigall, is that Redmond works hard to satisfy the IP needs of the music and movie biz. "Generally, we care about copyright when a copyright holder like NBC Universal says ‘What can we do to protect our copyright when our content goes through things like the Xbox and Zune?’" he continued. "We think very hard about how we can protect their interests."
As an example, he pointed to Microsoft’s Soapbox video-sharing service. "We put in a technological filtering process from Audible Magic to keep people from uploading and making available copyright content. We were interested only in content that’s user-generated - Web 2.0." Well, they were interested only in user-generated content after shuttering the non-filtered version of Soapbox for two months and relaunching the entire service with filters in place.
In any event, Sigall said that Microsoft only goes so far where copyright filters are concerned. "We have to look at these things from all perspectives, because we have real businesses in all areas. We have real users who will really complain if we push too far in one direction. If we’re too much pro-copyright, we’ll hear it from Zune and Xbox owners."
He also said that Microsoft is opposed to heavy government regulation where digital copyrights are concerned, arguing that the net evolves far too quickly for the government to keep up. "I spent 17 years in Washington," he said. "There's nothing positive or affirmative the government can do [beyond basic copyright law]."
The best way to handle the situation, Sigall said, is for the industry too keep throwing solutions at its problems until something sticks. "So, solutions that are open source and non-proprietary, and solutions that are proprietary. Solutions that rely on copyright filters, and solutions that don't. The government should stand back and make sure there's room in the market for all of those solutions."
The panel also included Patrick Ross (executive director of the Copyright Alliance) and Mike Godwin (general counsel for Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit behind Wikipedia), and both joined Sigall in calling for a copyright world free of government regulation.
That said, all three argued the tech industry needs to make an even greater effort to play the Washington game. "I agree with what Jule and Patrick are saying about not pushing for government intervention," Godwin said. "It may seem contradictory that I'm telling you that the government shouldn't intervene and [the industry] should spend more time Washington. But that is exactly how it should be. You have to show up to make sure that when the government does do something, it's well considered and balanced." ®