The Apple Files

A week after Apple started selling unprotected EMI tracks for 30 cents more than its usual 99 cents per track pricing, the company is now getting flak over something it has been doing since the iTunes music store premiered in 2003 – attaching the purchaser’s name with every track downloaded.

This is no secret. By right-clicking on any iTunes-purchased track and then clicking on the "info" tab, customers will see the technical information attached to the file, including the encoding bit rate and file size. Also imbedded in the file is the customer’s name and e-mail address.

And that’s what the latest fuss is about. Even though there are no copy restrictions on iTunes Plus tracks, some say the inclusion of customers’ names and e-mail addresses constitutes invasion of privacy.

Of course, the music industry’s war on piracy is involved, with speculation running rampant that the information might be used to trace any iTunes-purchased tracks swapped via peer-to-peer file trading networks.

So far, Apple hasn’t commented on the matter, and it might actually be confused as to why one of its standard iTunes business practices is suddenly under attack. However, while the computer / consumer electronics company has remained mum, others have had plenty to say about Apple’s policy.

"DRM prevented us from playing the music we have purchased on all of our devices. We asked that this be removed and we got what we were looking for, said technology blogger Erica Sadun. "But I’m on the fence in terms of the privacy issues. Consumers should always know what they’re getting into."

So far, one of the biggest online digital rights activist organizations – Electronic Frontier Foundation – has yet to take a stand on the matter, but did question why Apple didn’t encrypt the information in the first place.

"It just seems careless and unwise for somebody like Apple to start planting this kind of personal information without protection in the files," said EFF attorney Fred Von Lohmann. "It’s not as bad as leaking your credit card number or your Social Security number, but it’s still a pretty careless security leak."

But suspicious minds weren’t the only ones pondering iTunes’ personal information policies as industry watchers offered their own reasons for the inclusion of names and e-mail addresses in iTunes purchases.

"I think it’s more of a way of retaining a proof of purchase," said JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg. "DRM-free means I’m not restricted from putting the songs on other devices anymore, but it doesn’t give users a license for piracy."


The Bunny In Lala Land

What a difference a year makes.

It was only 12 months ago when record labels viewed used CD-trading company as one big infringement machine, with some label execs refusing to even consider doing some kind of business deal with the upstart.

"This is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink way to get around the law," EMI’s senior VP of digital development Ted Cohen told the Los Angeles Times in June 2006. "It makes it easier for people to copy CDs and steal music. Why would the music industry do anything to encourage a company like that?"

The Lala concept is simple enough. Users list CDs they already own as well as the discs they would like to acquire while Lala works the back end by hooking up those who have with those who want. For every used disc a member sends to the Lala brethren, a desired CD is sent in return.

So it was no surprise that record labels wanting to sell new CDs were ticked off about a Web site enabling people to trade used CDs. After all, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine CDs being traded, ripped and then traded again.

But the recent news that Lala announced an "agreement in principle" with Warner Music Group to sell unprotected music downloads did catch a few people off guard. What’s more, this isn’t your typical online music store scenario.

First of all, Lala members can have any song covered under the agreement streamed to their computers at no charge. Lala picks up the tab by paying the label a penny for each song streamed.

Then there’s the downloading part of the agreement. Instead of selling individual tracks for downloading to computer hard drives, Lala is selling only CDs, dynamically priced mostly between $6.50 and $13.50. Furthermore, those downloads bypass hard drives by loading directly from Lala’s servers to iPods.

The philosophy behind direct-to-iPod is that, by cutting out the hard drive middle ground, the DRM-free Lala downloads will not contribute to music piracy. That’s because most pirated tracks originate on hard drives and the iPod is supposed to be a one-way street where songs are only transferred to the music player, not from the player to a computer. However, there are plenty of third-party utilities that will transfer iPod files to computers.

But it’s not the iPod factor that’s picking up media traction, but the concept that the labels need to give music away in order to boost sales that has everyone talking.

"The music industry is so desperate for new ways to make money that a Silicon Valley startup is trying a counterintuitive approach; giving the music away as a way to jump sales," said the Wall Street Journal, describing Lala’s latest feature as a "music subscription service, but without the monthly subscription fee."

However, streaming Warner Music Group tunes and selling direct-to-iPod downloads was only part of Lala’s busy week. The company also announced several other features, including online lockers where iTunes users can not only upload their libraries and then access the music from different locations, but also load music to their iPods from those lockers.

"The iPod is the greatest portable music device ever invented, and as avid iPod fans we wanted to create a service that blends the convenience of the Web with the portability and functionality of a truly universal platform," said Lala founder Bill Nguyen. "Lala unleashes the Web’s power for playing music and safely sharing songs without the threat of PC viruses, spyware and other risks that are present on illegal P2P sites."


Prince Of Verizon

Verizon Wireless has a new feature. Prince has a new album. Together, the Purple One and the mobile phone carrier hope to make beautiful music together by generating sales for all involved.

Although Prince has yet to announce a release date for his upcoming Planet Earth album, fans can get its first single, "Guitar," for free. That is, if they’re Verizon Wireless V Cast customers.

It’s all a part of Verizon’s promotional effort for its V Cast Song ID feature. With V Cast Song ID, users can hold their Verizon phones next to a music source, such as a stereo speaker or radio, and have the service instantly identify the song and artist. At that point the service gives the user the opportunity to purchase and download the song, or purchase and download a ringtone or a ringback tone derived from the song.

Of course, you need a source playing the new Prince song before you can use Verizon’s Song ID feature to identify it. To do this, visit one of the licensed sites participating in the promotion, like YouTube, Revver, Veoh and MySpace. Then play the "Guitar" video and hold your phone up to the speaker for Song ID to identify the tune. At that point you can download the song for free and purchase ringtones and ringback tones.

And then you can party like it’s… well, you know.