Microsoft’s Zune media player, due for retail release next week, will have the support of Vivendi Universal in an unusual contract form. For every $249 Zune player sold, Universal will get $1 (subscription required) to make up for the “unauthorized content” the company expects will make its way onto the device.
Universal says that half of the fees collected will be passed on to its stable of recording artists, including U2, Jay-Z, Linkin Park, Luciano Pavarotti, and Bon Jovi. The rest will presumably pad Vivendi’s income statement a bit and make up for some of the lost CD sales revenue the industry bemoans at every opportunity.
Microsoft says it is discussing similar deals with other studios. The Zune has a wireless song-sharing feature that could raise the hackles of music industry executives, and at less than 0.5 percent of the total sale price, Universal’s cut appears rather reasonable. The motivation for it, however, is open for discussion.
“The only factor was that we feel that there’s a great deal of music that’s (stored) on these devices that was never legitimately obtained, and we wanted to get some sort of compensation for what we thought we’re losing,” said Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris, a previous acquaintance here at Ars. “I want our artists to be paid for the music that makes these devices popular.” He then goes on to lament the fact that end users tend to rip their own CDs onto iPods and other music players.
I’m sorry, but Universal already got paid for that content when the CD was sold, and ripping the songs for use on newfangled digital music players falls squarely under “fair use.” Why should I have to pay Apple for a digital copy of Living on a Prayer when I already own Slippery When Wet? Yet that’s exactly what Morris wants to see. The studios have the right to refuse access to their catalogs for any particular digital music service, and they use that trump card to squeeze every penny they can out of the common consumer.