Content Filtering On Microsoft Zune | Is It Going To Happen – What Are The Implications?

3 min read

Content Filtering On Microsoft ZuneYesterday, we touched on the issue which seems to be dominating the blogosphere right about now, that of the plans Microsoft seem to be developing for having a copyright cop on the Zune player.

Microsoft, by way of Cesar Menendez, an employee who works on the Zune has since tried to rectify the issue, and on Zune Insider claims that Microsoft do not have any plans to add content filtering to the Zune.

However, Alex Curtis of Public Knowledge has delved deeper in to the issues, and in the following article looks at the legal implications of any such move were it to happen.

Microsoft Zune and NBC Universal Copyright Filtering Collaboration

If you haven’t read about it, the New York Times
reported yesterday that: Microsoft
May Build a Copyright Cop Into Every Zune
Essentially, the large content provider would withhold their content
from a distributor unless the distributor put in effective measures to
prevent against piracy.

We’re not talking about DRM here, we’re
about filtering software, whether it resides on the playback device
like a Zune or iPod, or in the software on a syncing computer that
stores the consumers’ library of music and movies like the
Zune or
iTunes software. 

This software would troll your library checking for
content that was somehow infringing or unauthorized. It may even be
spyware that could report back to someone about the contents of your
media library.

Old Rumours

Unfortunately, rumors about something like this are not new.
Much of
the discussion had been around Apple and NBC/Universal. 

Universal has
been hell-bent on this stuff for a while now—remember
when they begged the FCC to allow filtering in the net neutrality
context last summer to help the poor corn farmer

And earlier this year, the RIAA’s
own Cary Sherman essentially described the scenario
I’ve fortunately clipped here in this video:

In the ‘Times article, they quote an NBC
representative on the alleged filtering deal with Microsoft:

Mr. Perrette said the plan is to create “filtering
technology that allows for playback of legitimately purchased content
versus non-legitimately purchased content.”

Who Decides?

Who decides what is legitimate? Infringing or unauthorized?
copyright law, you’d need a court to decide, but here,
it’s probably
the content company that withheld the content from the
this scenario, NBC Universal. 

Will there be any accounting for how the
consumer put the content in his library? What if videos are recorded
off the TV and transferred into the library? Legally off a DVD using
analog outs? Purchased while in a foreign market? Shared from a friend
for a weekend? Clipped for fair use? What if NBC Universal decides that
ABC/Disney’s content wasn’t legitimate?

Filters can’t tell the difference, because all they
do is compare
what a consumer has in their library against a database of registered

It really doesn’t matter whether you’re
thinking about
watermarking or flagging content, if the content in the library and
database doesn’t match, presumably that’s the
content that is filtered
and the consumer is prevented from hearing or watching it.


Since the article was published, Microsoft
has tried to correct the record by saying

We have no plans or commitments to implement any new
type of content filtering in the Zune devices as part of our content
distribution deal with NBC.

But by choosing the words he used: “Zune
devices” and “Zune family
of devices,” in my view, he really stepped in it. Here
he’s essentially
saying that, “No, Microsoft won’t put filters on a
Zune, but that
doesn’t preclude us from putting the filters in our Zune
software on

Who cares if the software is on the Zune device? The Zune
is essentially a “roach motel” anyways, you
can’t get music or videos
on it without using the Zune software on the PC. 

The logical place for
such filters are in the syncing Zune software. If you don’t
believe me,
take another look at Sherman’s video again, where he says:

Filters can be put in the applications for example.
You know, one could have a filter on the end user’s computer
that would
actually eliminate any benefit from…encryption because if
you want to
hear it, you’d have to decrypt it, and at that point the
filter could


The big content companies want to control what you can and
see. They want this control at the ISP level and on the computer
using to read this blog post. 

Tech companies, like Microsoft and
AT&T, appear to be more interested in making another buck
“exclusively” distributing or promoting content
instead of being
concerned about the people who pay for it.

Alex Curtis is an author at Public Knowledge discussing public rights in the emerging digital culture. Post has Some Rights Reserved.