Cited largely as further proof of how "evil" DRM is, Microsoft this summer will stop authorizing digital music files purchased from the old MSN Music service. Customers will have until the end of August to select which device they wish to permanently store any music files purchased from the now-defunct service.
"But Antony," I can hear you saying, "Certainly this belongs in the 'unplugged' section as the worst digital development of the week, not the best!"
Ah, but that's being short-sighted. There is a major opportunity here for the music industry to reclaim all the goodwill lost over the years by antagonizing its customers with lawsuits and clumsy digital restrictions.
Labels should join forces, quickly, and offer to replace every track purchased from the MSN Music service with a DRM-free track from the Amazon MP3 service at no cost. Don't wait for Amazon or one of the other existing services to float the idea to you… take some initiative here and make an effort get back in the good graces your customers.
Think about it. These are music fans who actually made the effort to BUY music from a legitimate source who are now being abandoned by a service provider who tried to play by the music industry's rules.
Microsoft's decision to stop supporting these files severely limits how this music can be used going forward. They can't be transferred to a new computer. Heck, they won't even withstand an upgrade from Windows XP to Vista!
These music fans are being punished for playing by the rules. YOUR rules! Since Microsoft is not stepping up and offering to replace their tracks with copies from the Zune music service (a colossally stupid mistake if you ask me), record labels need to take action. It's a no-lose situation.
First, we're not talking about a significant number of files here. The MSN Music service barely made a dent in digital music market when it was active, so the cost of giving away a few million tracks at best will be minimal.
Second, doing so will do loads to introduce the Amazon service to a new audience, giving it a much-needed boost to compete against iTunes (which is what the industry wants after all, right?)
And third, such a move would generate an enormous amount of press—POSITIVE press, something record labels don't get much of these days.
Now simply replacing these now-hobbled digital music files by itself won't be enough to win over generations of music fans still bitter over the music industry's digital decisions to date. But it's certainly a big step.
With the imminent release of "Grand Theft Auto IV," the anti-videogame crowd is already starting their breathless condemnation of anybody and anything related to it.
Someone from the "Parents Television Council" who obviously doesn't read many of my articles sent me an e-mail the other day announcing that they've “put "'Grand Theft Auto IV' retailers on notice" to ensure no children gain access to the game. Their solution: "calling on all major retailers to reconsider any decisions to sell the game." So, clearly, this has nothing to do with keeping the game out of the hands of children, but rather a fruitless attempt to boycott the game completely.
It gets sillier. The City of New York bowed to similar pressure and had all advertisements for the game removed from public transportation vehicles, even though the ads contained no overt sexual or violent images.
And it's only going to get worse in the days and weeks to come. Opponents have focused on some of the more objectionable elements of previous games in the series—like beating up hookers or the now-infamous "hot coffee" mode that unlocked a sex mini-game—but the new game has plenty of additional ammo for them. Sure to raise hackles is a drunk driving sequence, for instance.
What's sad about all this is that the Grand Theft Auto series represents the best of what videogames have to offer—creative storytelling, immersive gameplay, technological innovation. Developer Rockstar Games should be put forward as a model for how to best meet customer expectations and consistently deliver a quality product. In any other format, such successes would be applauded, but as a videogame it becomes a pariah.
For sure, Grand Theft Auto is not for kids. But videogames are not solely a children's medium. There's plenty of room for adult-themed games just as there are movies and music.
Is there violence in Grand Theft Auto? You bet, but no more than your average R-rated movie, and frankly most if it is rather tongue-in-cheek. Is there sex? Some, but far less than your average PG-13 movie or even what's displayed on prime-time TV.
The difference is that videogames let gamers control the action. It's interactive, unlike the passive act of watching a movie or TV. That should be a good thing, but chowderheads like the PTC see it as a way to "teach children how to kill." OK, I've played plenty of videogames, including GTA, that provide a rocket launcher to dispense with particularly bothersome enemies, but I'm quite certain if you gave me one to fire in real life I wouldn't know where to start.
The call to arms over Grand Theft Auto is a simple-minded ploy that uses manufactured indignance and sensational scare tactics to scare the shit out of parents who don't know any better for political ends.
The music industry knows all to well how quickly common sense can be thrown out the window when it comes to "protecting the children" from the evil entertainment industry that's bent on destroying the whole of today's young adults. It just takes one line of lyrics from a song, one scene from a movie, one clip from a videogame taken out of context to light the torches of ignorance and launch a witch hunt.
Such actions insult the intelligence of everyone, most notably the young adults they claim to protect.