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When Microsoft Owns Your ISP 21 January 2003 Edition
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In its seemingly futile quest to overcome the effects of piracy, the music industry thinks that it's come up with a good idea -- charge ISPs a fee for those users who download their products using P2P networks.

Naturally most people in the industry have expressed outrage at the very suggestion that they might be forced to pay such a fee, even if they could pass it on to customers.

Right now it's very unlikely that this proposal would fly -- after all, unless it's mandated by law, how are they going to force ISPs to levy such charges?


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Or will they really need the help of lawmakers?

Perhaps not. Perhaps they'll turn to someone even more powerful than those lawmakers.

While I was writing this column I suddenly realised how this could well become part of Microsoft's play for control of the digital media market.

Right now, the recording industry can't identify a Net user without the help of that user's ISP.

Most ISPs are reluctant to hand out this sort of information, partly because they don't want to be seen as stoolies and partly because there's a very definite cost associated with turning an IP number and time/date into a user's name and address.

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    So how else could the recording industry identify an internet user?

    Passport?

    It's pretty hard to do much on the Net these days without banging into a site or service that uses Microsoft's Passport service as a method of authenticating a user's identity.

    Given the huge push that Microsoft is making in this area I would wager that sooner or later a "Passport" will be almost mandatory for all but the most casual browsing.

    So what would it be worth to a recording industry fighting a bitter battle against online music piracy to be able to identify virtually anyone online?

    Okay, so when you signed up for your Passport you probably entered a whole lot of bogus information right?

    That might be okay now but what about when Passport becomes so ubiquitous that you need it just to log onto your ISP's own service? You'll have to provide valid information then because your ISP will demand it as part of their terms of service.

    Now Microsoft can go to the recording industry and offer them:

    • Digital rights management systems
    • Copy protection for audio CDs
    • The ability to identify almost every Net user while they're online
    I think you'll see that it's going to be very hard to ignore Bill's boys when they've got all those skittles lined up in a row eh?

    Once such a system was in place, it would then become trivial for the recording industry to automatically charge an ISP when one of its users were detected downloading music (legally or otherwise).

    Of course *YOUR* ISP would never sign up to such a scheme would it?

    Well don't forget that ISPs are in business to make money and it's a very competitive market. If Microsoft sold them on prospect of earning a whole heap of money by acting as a billing agent for the recording companies and any other content providers, do you think they'd really say "no thanks, we'd rather remain barely profitable"?

    Then there's the spinmeisters at Microsoft who would doubtless pitch this as a *feature* to Net users. "Use a Microsoft Accredited ISP and gain immediate access to millions of extra products and services while online without risking your credit card".

    Trust me when I say that there are more than enough stupid people out there that customers would start switching to MS-accredited ISPs because they felt they must have the advertised benefits on offer.

    To add icing to the cake, those ISPs who signed up to this unholy alliance would likely feature prominently in new releases of Windows -- appearing on a list of pre-configured services to which a user could sign up with the click of a mouse button. Remember, Microsoft have never been slow to take maximum advantage of their monopoly in this area.

    It must be patently clear to everyone by now that Microsoft wants to be an indispensable component of the movie and recording industries and it will do whatever is necessary to position itself as such.

    Resistance is futile...

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