journal: toy

The ringtone revolt

Last week I toyed with Apple’s new ringtone service and wrote about the experience. It’s a nice service, so far as the clipping tool goes. It’s quick and easy to make a ringtone out of any catchy little motif in a song.  But it’s not free.

Since announcing the ringtone service on September 5, Apple released an update to iTunes that made it harder for iPhone owners to create free ringtones outside of iTunes and, when iPhone owners found a quick workaround, another one.  That’s two updates in two weeks.  Excessive?

Why is Apple frantically releasing new versions of iTunes to keep iPhone ringtones locked down? Are home-made ringtones illegal? Not so, says copyright attorney and Engadget staff writer Nilay Patel, who tells us it is perfectly legal to make ringtones from CDs you’ve purchased. What’s more, if you made the song, you own the copyright and can do with it whatever you want.  Patel noted that the iTunes End User License Agreement (EULA) forbids using iTunes-bought songs as ringtones.  The EULA has since been updated to clarify the restriction:

You may use only ring tone Products as a musical “ringer” in connection with phone calls.

But if your music is on store-bought CDs then, according to United States law, you are free to create ringtones.

Okay, so what’s the problem?

Frankly, I’m concerned about Apple’s growing habit of locking down its platforms. I was okay with Apple locking Mac OS X to Apple Macs. I was okay with the way iPods sync with iTunes to prevent transferring songs back from iPod to computer.  But I’m disappointed with the new iPod classic and nano for requiring Apple-manufactured A/V cables for viewing video and photos on TVs or displays, according to iLounge. I’m disappointed that Apple decided the community of Linux-using iPod owners was enough of a threat, they needed to lock them out. I’m disappointed that the iPod touch and iPhone are not open to third-party development. And I’m disappointed with the tightening restrictions on iPhone ringtones.

Seriously, Apple: priorities. I’m sure you have bigger fish to fry than geeks—some of them, your most loyal customers—trying to use their iPods with an unsupported platform. I’m sure there are bigger issues to work out than making life more difficult for iPhone owners doing what they are legally entitled to do. I can understand if the record execs are making you restrict iTunes Store music, but what about everything else?

I would have expected Apple to learn a few lessons from the RIAA by now:

  1. Don’t treat your customers like criminals by doling out heavy-handed restrictions and policies. The iTunes Store worked for a reason: it allows customers to have a decent amount of freedom with the content purchased off of iTunes, relative to other DRM schemes.
  2. If you treat customers like criminals, they will find a way to circumvent the restrictions you put in place.
  3. If you treat customers like criminals, it will only raise resentment and bad will in them.
  4. If all else fails, revert to number one.

Apple, your customers want the freedom to do what they are legally allowed to do with their music. Look to the RIAA as an example of what not to do. Don’t alienate your customers. Sometimes it’s just better to Let it Be.


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