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Free music, some restrictions apply

What do you call a music store that offers half of the music iTunes has available for download, wrapped with Digital Rights Management restrictions, works on a limited number of portable music player, only works on a Windows-based PC and has a shaky business model of relying on online advertisements?  Ruckus

Funded by venture capitalists with the blessing of the Recording Industry Association of America, Ruckus was supposed to cause a ruckus on college campus by giving away free music to students.   that they will buy music legally and stop obtaining music from services like Limewire and The Pirate Bay.

Unfortunately the RIAA still needs to visit college campuses:  no matter how many times the RIAA sues college students and spends millions of dollars to combat piracy, students still obtain music illegally.
Though the music is free there are some restrictions to the service.  First, you must use Windows XP or Vista to run the service.  Second all the music that is downloaded is wrapped in DRM, restrictions that allow copyright holders how their works are viewed.  Because Ruckus uses Windows Media Digital Rights Management and not Apple’s DRM service, it won’t work on the iPod line.  Most importantly, Ruckus only supports a limited number of music players.  It’s hard to tell which music player are supported because Ruckus doesn’t have a support page to find out if your music player is supported and Microsoft didn’t offer any help as well.  If your music player is supported, transferring your music to your player is not free.  The service costs $4.99 a month or $20 per semester.

Besides the restrictions on the music and a limited support of music player, the service is decent.  Ruckus Networks claim to have 3 million songs available to download, well short of iTunes’ 8 million songs and Amazon’s 3.1 millions songs available for download.  Ruckus does have current hits available for download: like ColdPlay’s Viva la Vita, Kate Perry’s I Kissed a Girl and Jesse McCartney’s Leavin’, are all offered but other genres depend on what’s available from the record companies.  Ruckus does have music that other music stores do not have; like Def Leppard, which is not available in iTunes and Amazon.  Ruckus also has a movie download service, but it mostly contains music videos, movie trailers, web episodes, and independent films.  Don’t expect full-length movies like Dark Knight and Sex and the City to appear anytime soon.

Ruckus encodes the music at 128Kbps and 192Kbps and uses the Windows Media audio format.  While it’s not considered CD quality sound, it’s better than the 128KBps that Apple uses to encode some of their music.  It does not compare to what Amazon uses to encode their music: 256Kbps and its DRM restriction free that allows you to transfer the song to any music player that supports the MP3 format.  Apple also has some songs encoded at 256Kpbs that are DRM free and some music players support unprotected-AAC but the majority is encoded at 128Kpbs and is DRM protected.

In conclusion, Ruckus offers half of what iTunes has available for download, wrapped in restrictions and only works with a limited amount of music players.  While it won’t stop students from pirating music, I will give the RIAA credit for giving it the old college try.

This column appeared in the Daily Reveille newspaper on Friday, August 22, 2008 called "Free music, some restrictions apply"