Thinking of buying a Zune? Microsoft has plans to put “Copyright Cop” on it.

Microsoft’s Zune media players continue to lag behind Apple’s popular iPods so they’re looking to gain an advantage wherever they can. One possible boost is a recent deal with NBC to license shows for use on the Zune after NBC yanked them from Apple’s iTunes offerings after a dispute over pricing and DRM. Microsoft seems eager to do whatever it takes to make NBC happy including developing software that would check for and block any illegitimate NBC shows found on your Zune. Here’s a snippet from the New York Times Blog:

Late Tuesday afternoon I reached J. B. Perrette, the president of digital distribution for NBC Universal, to ask why NBC found Microsoft’s video store more appealing than Apple’s.

He explained that NBC, like most studios, would like the broadest distribution possible for its programming. But it has two disputes with Apple.

First, Apple insists that all TV shows have an identical wholesale price so that it can sell all of them at $1.99. NBC wants to sell its programs for whatever price it chooses.

Second, Apple refused to cooperate with NBC on building filters into its iPod player to remove pirated movies and videos.

Microsoft, by contrast, will accept NBC’s pricing scheme and will work with it to try to develop a copyright “cop” to be installed on its devices.

Oddly enough there appears to be some debate at Microsoft about whether or not this Copyright Cop software will actually ever see the light of day on the Zune:

In the Zune Insider Blog, Cesar Menendez, a member of Microsoft’s Zune team, refers to this post, and the blog discussion it prompted. He writes:


    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.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Perrette told me that Microsoft committed to explore filtering; he didn’t say it committed to implementing those filters.

Here is what Mr. Sohn, the Microsoft spokesman, told me yesterday when I asked him about what Mr. Perrette said: “I don’t think they are wrong, but we are not going to characterize those discussions.” Later he added, “We have agreed to work with NBC across a range of topics, and protection of copyrighted material is certainly one of them.”

Either way it’s certainly a good reason to think twice about whether or not you want to purchase a Zune especially given the fate that befell users of the defunct MSN Music service.

NBC dumps Apple’s iTunes and moves to Amazon’s Unbox for video downloads.

NBC hasn’t been happy with Apple for awhile now in part because Apple refuses to deviate from its one-price-fits-all policy for downloads. So NBC decided to take its ball and go play with Amazon’s new Unbox download service. The other reason for the switch? Amazon’s Unbox allows for more restrictive DRM on downloads:

“This further expands our longstanding relationship to bring a robust content offering to the marketplace in a variety of ways that will benefit the consumer and, at the same time, protects our content,” said NBC Universal’s president of digital distribution, Jean-Briac Perrette, in a statement.

“Protecting content” is a tip of the hat to NBC’s concerns over DRM. Amazon and Apple both use DRM for video, but Apple’s DRM policies are considered to be “too lax” by many players in the TV and movie business. Apple’s terms allow for authorized for playback on as many as five different devices. Furthermore, Apple-approved devices can be authorized to play content purchased from five different accounts.

Compare Unbox: Shows bought from Unbox can be kept on two computers max and can be stored on up to two different (approved) media players. Users cannot “mix” accounts, meaning that a PC cannot have authorized content purchased from two different accounts accessible at the same time. As you can see, Unbox is more restrictive.

This is a bit of a gamble for the folks at NBC as Amazon’s Unbox files won’t work on Apple or Linux PCs nor on the ever popular video iPods, the latter being the most significant as it’s still the dominate portable media player. Again given the fact that all of the shows NBC is worried about protecting with more restrictive DRM are available for free on BitTorrent you have to wonder just who and what NBC thinks it’s protecting its content from. Once again they opt to punish the legitimate consumers in hopes of squeezing a few more pennies out of them.

NBC’s version of “The IT Crowd” will have the U.K. actor who played Moss.

I’ve related what a big fan I am of the British sitcom known as The IT Crowd and my concerns with the fact that NBC has licensed the show for an American version of it. In particular I stated that I flat out could not fathom who they could conceivably get to play the role of Moss that had any hope of equaling the comedic genius that is his portrayal by Richard Ayoade in the original series.

Well it appears that NBC felt the same way I did as they brought Richard over to reprise his role. Looking at the official NBC webpage for the show brought the pleasant surprise to light. As for the role of Roy, the show’s producers settled on Joel McHale whom I’ve never seen outside of The Soup and as such have no idea how well he might play a true techno geek. The other two primary characters, Jen and Denholm, are being played by people I don’t even recognize so they’re completely up in the air.

Still, it gives me a small bit of optimism to see Richard in the cast. The official website even has a short video interview with him.