BoingBoing today posted about a networked hard drive from Western Digital that blocks access to music and video files. The blogosphere started a chorus of outrage. And I referred to it in a post about the dark side of Macrovision’s acquisition of Gemstar TV Guide.
I also called Western Digital, and when they called back it turns out that the situation is—as it often is—somewhat more complex than it first seemed.
The file blocking is not in the hard drive’s software itself but in an Internet file sharing service called Mio that is included with the drive. This service, Mionet , which was acquired by Western Digital earlier this year, has two aspects: It lets you connect to your own files from anywhere on the Internet. And it also lets you specify certain folders that you can share with your friends.
Even before WD bought Mionet, the service blocked people from sharing music and video files with friends. But it did—and still does—allow users to link to any of their own files. Moreover, the hard drives, which are designed for homes or small businesses with several computers, will let any machine on a local network read music and video files. And the drives themselves, don’t prevent any sort of files to be stored.
“None of our drives are in any way taking a stand against any kind of data,” said Catherine Scott, the vice president for corporate communications of Western Digital. “WD’s position on hard drives is save what you want; do what you want with it. This is simply about the software.”
Ms. Scott said the company needs to be conservative when so many Internet services that enable file sharing in one way or another are getting sued by Hollywood. Mionet, in fact, resembles a private version of Napster, orchestrating peer to peer exchange of files.
She readily acknowledged that this arrangement is far from ideal, as it keeps people from using the service to share home movies and MP3s of the high school band. WD is trying to look at fingerprinting technology that will let it filter out copyrighted material and still allow sharing of other material.