February 26 2008

Microsoft CEO Calls iPod Owners Thieves

Steve BallmerSteve Ballmer is a moron.

I’m not sure why Microsoft allows their CEO to ever interact with the public because all he ends up doing is embarrassing himself or the company. This time he decided it was a good idea to imply that iPod users, such as myself, are nothing but thieves.

While at a gathering with the media in London this past weekend, the ever-present subject of Digital Rights Management (DRM) came up. For those unfamiliar with the term, DRM is a form of file encoding that dictates where the file may be played, and locks the music to a given device or account holder. It has been a highly controversial part of the technology world for several years now, and most consumers wish it would just go away as they believe when they legally purchase a file, they should have the right to play that file where and how they choose.

In general, content creators such as music companies and movie studios have disagreed. Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, wrote in an open letter, entitled “Thoughts On Music“, that the music industry needed to abandon DRM, and it seemed they are following him.

So, while Mr. Ballmer was being asked about DRM by the press, he said:

“We’ve had DRM in Windows for years. The most common format of music on an iPod is ‘stolen’.”

Excuse me? You reach this conclusion how? See, here’s the flaw, iTunes Store just became the second largest music retailer in the United States, behind only Wal-Mart. Now, mind you that iTunes Store purchases can only be played on Apple products such as the Apple TV, in iTunes, and, oh yeah, on iPods. On Christmas day alone Apple moved 20 million songs via the iTunes Stores, in theory, on to iPods.

Mr. Ballmer went on to say:

“Part of the reason people steal music is money, but some of it is that the DRM stuff out there has not been that easy to use. We are going to continue to improve our DRM, to make it harder to crack, and easier, easier, easier, easier, to use,” he said.

However, Ballmer conceded it isn’t going to be an easy battle to win. “Most people still steal music,” he said. “We can build the technology but there are still ways for people to steal music.”

Those are wonderful sound bites for the media, and they’re good for scaring corporate business partners, but again I would ask for proof.  I mean, I would hate to speculate that Ballmer/Microsoft are attempting to scare content providers that they are screwed without DRM, and that said DRM could be provided by them.  Microsoft would never go that route.


Are we to believe this “easier, easier, easier, easier, to use” DRM will play on iPods?  Somehow my gut tells me we will hear it won’t work with iPods, but boy howdy, it sure will work on the Zune, Microsoft’s joke of an MP3 player.

Any way you slice this, this was a poor choice on Ballmer’s part, something he is not unfamiliar with, and insulting the 42 million plus iPod owners isn’t going to win you any fans.

share tweet share

Music Science & Technology |


  • Roy

    And what percentage of the music on your ipod was legally purchased..hmmm?

  • Jo

    Stolen means not paid for — everything on my iPod is paid for — what a jerk.

  • Jo – Ballmer can't seem to walk out the door of the Microsoft offices without sticking his foot in his mouth.

  • Roy – Well, until recently I would have said 100%, but then Sony decided ripping music from a CD you own counts as theft…

  • Ballmer is twisting the truth here, at the very least. Probably a good chunk of music on most music players, regardless of the maker, is “stolen.” Ballmer says “iPod” just to take a swipe at Apple which is unfounded.

    The thing is, if you want pirating-related software, most of it is made for Windows. Surveys have suggested, in fact, that Mac users buy their music more often than PC users. I am guessing that this has more to do with income levels and perhaps a relative lack of hostility to the immediate vendor, not to mention ease of use–rather than some moral superiority over Windows users.

    But as for which music player has more stolen software, Ballmer’s statement is self-serving and baseless. One could just as easily load stolen music onto a Zune as you could onto an iPod. Unless I am mistaken, the Zune will not reject a non-DRM’ed music or video track.

    Jobs does have the right attitude about DRM: it’s stupid. It doesn’t work. Pirates always find a way around it and make clean copies of originally-protected works. The only people that DRM really hurts is paying consumers. I never knew the frustration of OS DRM until I bought Windows XP and realized that even if I do something like putting in extra RAM, I lose control over my OS and have to set things aside and call up Microsoft to get permission to use what I paid for long ago.

    Also, Apple does do a better job for people who do fair-use or personal copying. I have students who give media-based presentations using PowerPoint, and whenever they try to get a video clip, they run into DRM roadblocks–because they used MS software to make the clip. I have to warn them against that. They’re not pirates, they’re students using purchased media and using it in a totally legal way. But Ballmer and Gates stand in their way and call them “thieves.”


  • “Surveys have suggested, in fact, that Mac users buy their music more often than PC users. I am guessing that this has more to do with income levels and perhaps a relative lack of hostility to the immediate vendor, not to mention ease of use–rather than some moral superiority over Windows users.”

    wha? really…show me.

  • Pingback: » Now I am a thief? Well that’s okay, considering I am a bad, bad, bad person i drank the kool-aid: clutching my dixie cup of apple goodness()

  • Pingback: » Blog Archive » Unlimited Music Coming For iPods?()