Fingerprint Media Player

VeriTouch and Thinking Materials are pitching a new portable media player to the RIAA and MPAA, my two favorite organizations. Encrypted digital music and videos can be streamed to the device wirelessly, on demand, and played in their decrypted state only after a fingerprint scan has successfully identified the user. This will supposedly “eliminate piracy and illegal file-sharing.”

There are a lot of problems with this, but I’ll start with “wirelessly.” This is vague, and could refer to many different technologies including WLAN, Bluetooth, and cellular networks. But if a WLAN or Bluetooth connection is available, why not simply use a laptop or PDA to access content? Furthermore, using a standard network protocol would leave the “digital content” susceptible to theft. A cellular network is the only sensible option. Well, except for one small problem... the RIAA and MPAA don’t have any cellular networks. Then there’s the bandwidth issue: music and video files are large. Such a large amount of data would be a massive burden on existing cellular networks, so it’s unlikely that any of them would be willing to support this.

Then there’s the fingerprint scan. Have you ever used a fingerprint scanner? They don’t work very well, and are far from secure. People forced to use them often at work complain that they reject legitimate fingerprints daily. Many online publications cite tricks that can fool them based on gelatin molds or Gummi Bears. But more importantly, there’s the “I think I’m getting screwed here” factor. People will not react kindly to this biometric requirement to play music and videos that they have purchased through whatever service is built around the iVue.

Of course, the RIAA and MPAA need not worry about the customer reaction. They fail to consider a key question that every other business must answer when a product or service is launched: Why would anyone buy this?

I certainly don’t know. With video-playback, cellular or WLAN, and fingerprint-scanning capabilities built in, this won’t be a cheap device. After customers purchase the device, they’ll have to pay for the service on it as well. I wouldn’t rule out a pay-per-play scheme either – if the industry has the technical ability to force this on people, you can bet that they’ll use it. Using this device and its service will be expensive. The market is already very competitive. Why would people buy an expensive device with tight DRM restrictions when the alternatives are better, cheaper, and more flexible?

They wouldn’t.

Just ask Sony what happened to their first generation of MP3 players. Well, they weren’t exactly MP3 players – they only played Sony’s proprietary music format with tight DRM protections. Everyone looking for a portable MP3 player simply purchased DRM-free devices from competitors, and Sony’s offerings were pulled from the market as quickly as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy.

Of course, the RIAA and MPAA aren’t expected to follow normal business practices. They’re too rich for that. When people don’t want to purchase their authorized DRM devices, why not buy some politicians and create a law that makes it illegal to purchase anything else? Well, they already tried that two years ago...