A “very surprised” Western Digital Corp. (WD) may reconsider its decision to restrict certain types of file-sharing using its remote access software, a company spokesman said Monday.
“It is something that we are going to look at in future,” said Brian Miller, director of marketing at WD. “There are definitely a good number of customers who are very interested in opening up the accessibility” offered by WD’s Anywhere Access software.
But Miller stressed that nothing has changed yet — nor is any reversal imminent.
The Lake Forest, Calif.-based storage vendor last week found itself in the middle of a raging controversy over what some called attempts by WD to police how people use their Western Digital hardware and software. The controversy erupted after the BoingBoing.net Web site published a post saying that the company’s WD Anywhere Access software prohibited users from remotely accessing most types of multimedia content stored on their WD hard drives.
Calling it the most “extreme example I’ve seen yet of tech companies crippling data devices in order to please Hollywood,” the article’s author said that WD had disabled the sharing of 30 different multimedia file types, including .avi, .mp3, .wmv, .mpeg and divx, on its network-connected devices.
WD’s Anywhere Access software is available with the company’s 1TB MyBook World Edition of shared storage devices. The software is designed to allow WD customers to access their WD hard drives remotely in order use digital files such as photos, videos and text documents and even share those files with others “as if that content were stored local to the user,” according to a company description of the tool.
Monday, Miller agreed that while such sharing is possible without restrictions within a home network or LAN, Anywhere Access does not allow users to access multimedia files types commonly associated with copyrighted material such as music and video over the Web.
“We wanted to take a very conservative approach to the market, given all the discussions around copyright protections around music and video,” he said. “We wanted to listen to the marketplace and to how people were using” the remote access capability before deciding on a future direction, he said.
Catherine Scott, vice president of marketing for WD’s branded products group, expressed surprise at the vehemence of last week’s reaction. One reason the company has been “overly cautious” is because of recent lawsuits related to copyrights disputes, she said. “We need to be as conservative as we can to make sure we are complying with [copyright protection] laws around the world.”
The goal is to make sure that WD’s technology isn’t seen as an enabler of illegal copyright infringement, she said. “We are looking at the overall climate for this kind of activity. This is a way to protect ourselves from any type of lawsuits that might happen. This really is uncharted territory,” Scott said.
Miller claimed that the file-sharing restrictions highlighted in the BoingBoing.net article and elsewhere have been in place since WD announced Anywhere Access back in February. Until last week, there had been no concerns about it, since most people used it to simply share photos and documents.
“As of a couple of days ago, we started hearing a lot more about music and video sharing,’ Miller said.
Any decision the company makes to loosen restrictions on its Anywhere Access software will take into account the need for copyright protection, he said.