Eliot Van Buskirk wrote an interesting piece on Wired.com today about the conflict surrounding the Zune and it's possible Creative Commons license violations.

Here's the background: Van Buskirk talked a bit about the Zune on his Wired blog a few weeks ago. Among other things he mentioned that the device only plays a song three times after it has been transmitted wirelessly. A reader responded by asking:

"If I have Creative Commons licensed MP3's on my Zune and send them to another Zune (which then DRM's them) where they can only be played 3 times this violates the Creative Commons license. How does Microsoft get around this?"

Today Van Bursik presented the answer: By not wrapping the song in DRM. Unprotected MP3s stay unprotected, but the Zune refuses to play them more than three times anyway. One explanation is that the DRM is based on the database, and not the file itself. The article quotes a Microsoft representative with the following words:

"We are not applying any 'DRM' to any files that weren't already protected. No file that has (for instance) a Creative Commons license or is unprotected will have any encryption applied to it."

Files might just get flagged as protected and the Zune refuses to stop playing them after a predefined countdown. Of course tracks from Microsoft's Zune download store are protected with an additional wrapper, since they are transfered form the PC to the Zune. But Zune to Zune transmitted content doesn't need any additional protection with the device being a closed ecosystem.

This is bad news for people who hoped for a showdown between Microsoft and Creative Commons. Reverse engineering enthusiasts on the other hand might be quite happy about this. Of course I'm not an expert in this field - but manipulating a single database seems to be easier than removing DRM from lots of files on the fly.

Speaking of reverse engineering: Jon Johansen used his blog today to defend the Zune. Maybe he knows something that we don't?

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