Monopolistic behavior hurts customers

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    Many students around campus can be seen sporting the ubiquitous white earbud headphones of the iPod. Students come through the Skiff newsroom with iPods on a daily basis. This is not surprising when one considers 21 million of the 28 million MP3 players sold last year were iPods, according to a New York Times article this week.

    The Times went on to say the Apple iPod still holds roughly an 80-percent share of the MP3 player market, and Apple’s iTunes Music Store is the source for an estimated 75 percent of all digital music sales.

    Why, then, are there many CDs available on the market that cannot be transferred to an iPod?

    The problem stems from two competing digital rights management methods: Apple’s Fair Share and Microsoft’s Secure Windows Media Audio.

    Sony BMG and Warner Music Group have refused to license certain bands’ music to iTunes, and many CDs carry protection, which restricts buyers to ripping secure Windows Media Audio files only. These files cannot be transferred to the iPod.

    Currently, Apple’s Fair Share format is only readable on computer players capable of reading MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Codec files or on the iPod. Song purchases on iTunes cannot be transferred to any other devices.

    All other players on the market capable of reading digitally purchased music can read WMA files available on services like Napster.

    Usually competition is a good thing, but, in this case, competition is unfair to the consumer.

    With such a large market share, it is easy to claim Apple has a monopoly on digital music. It has engaged in anticompetitive practices by making music purchased on its service readable only on its product.

    That said, music labels are being anticompetitive by limiting the formats in which certain artists are available. Refusing to license music and restricting its use to players that make up a minority of the overall market, especially a format so easy and cheap to create, reeks of monopoly.

    Apple is at fault for restricting its product to being used with its store only. The record companies as a group are responsible for wasting the time and the patience of consumers by waging a war on illegal downloads instead of creating a standard, copyright-protected format.

    Both groups, in working against each other, have created a situation which threatens to leave the development of this medium in limbo.

    Or, maybe, could this be a giant conspiracy perpetrated by the music industry to get us to buy DVD Audio? No. They can’t even decide whether to use that or Super Audio CDs.

    Apple, Microsoft and the music industry need to sit down at a table in a small room somewhere and create a standard format for downloads and stop penalizing their valued customers.

    Opinion Editor Brian Chatman for the Editorial Board