Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Apple’s new Music Store ringtone policy

Jerry Stratton, September 7, 2007

The Apple giveth, and the Apple taketh away. Yesterday, Apple saved me $400 by artifically restricting what iTunes and the iPhone can do, just for the sake of nickel-and-diming music lovers the same way the rest of the industry tries to. Today, they cost me… $12.501. How? I have a pile of five music CDs on my desk right now. They’re on my desk because I don’t have room for them in my CD racks. I haven’t purchased another CD rack because I’ve been thinking I’m not going to be buying many CDs any more, and it’s silly to buy a rack just for five CDs. I’ve been trying out the new iTunes Plus and it works pretty well, so why fill my apartment with CD racks?

Well, one reason is that there are no crazy artificial restrictions on what I can do with my CDs. Digital music purchases always have restrictions that CDs don’t have. In the past, the iTunes Music Store restrictions have been fairly benign: they haven’t limited what you can do with the music you buy, but how many times you can do it. The only egregious limitation was the inability to resell music you’re done with and don’t want to listen to anymore. While I think they’re wrong, I can also see their point about resale of a no-physical-media purchase.

Recently, however, they’ve added a purely arbitrary usage restriction. The latest iTunes blocks iToner from adding ringtones to the iPhone. And the iTunes Music Store specifically forbids triggering music to play on incoming phone calls. That is, they specifically forbid using iTMS-purchased songs as ringtones.

You may not use Products as a musical “ringer” in connection with phone calls.

Over on the MacRumors forum, someone wrote that this has nothing to do with the iPhone, because it’s been in the iTunes Music Store agreement for years. I knew that this was wrong, because I try to pay attention to terms of use, and while I might miss it once or twice, if it had been there for years I’d have noticed it by now. So I went to look, and in fact it has not been there for years. It’s been there only since well after the iPhone was announced. As late as May 13 of this year there was no restriction on using iTMS-purchased songs as ringtones.

I go out of my way to make sure that all of the music on my computer is music that I’ve legally acquired. When an album isn’t available on CD, I don’t look for it on illegal Internet download sites, I search out the vinyl. When I buy on-line, I buy from the stores that sell, rather than lease, music. Stores like mp3tunes if possible, and the iTunes Music Store if (as is usually the case) the music isn’t on the other sites.

But it’s difficult to keep digital downloads legal when they change the terms like this, and try to claim that I can’t listen to my music the way I legally could if I’d purchased it on CD or vinyl. Today it’s ringtones. What about other kinds of triggered alarms? What about the alarm on my cell phone, or the alarm I use to wake up in the morning? I use iTunes as an alarm clock. Will I end up needing to make a special playlist that excludes iTMS-purchased songs in the future so as to avoid waking up to an illegal song?

Which means that I’ll continue purchasing CDs for the foreseeable future.

How does that jibe with a store where music lovers get to “own their music”? Where they “can listen to it however they want”?

It’s disappointing to see Apple doing this, not just as a music lover but as an Apple stockholder. Apple is not dominant in the music industry. They look dominant because they’re the first choice of most people who buy music on-line. But they’re the first choice only because they provide a service that is more consumer-friendly than everyone else’s. People take Apple’s side in blow-ups like the Apple/NBC thing because of that history. But consumers have very short memories, and if this trend continues my Apple stock won’t be worth as much in the future as it is now.

In response to What could make me buy an iPhone?: Apple is hitting almost all the right buttons to get me to buy one. All they’re missing is letting me listen to my music the way I want to listen to it.

September 19, 2007: Stephen Fry on iPhone killers

Stephen Fry says it better, of course:

What, Apple’s a bigger company than Sony? Got more muscle? What muscle it has got, it got from daring to be better.

It’s a long screed about the good and the bad in the iPhone Killer industry. The very fact that these are “iPhone Killers” a few months after the iPhone’s release should tell us something.

Hat tip to Daring Fireball.

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