First, there were the hearings on steroids in baseball. Then, there was Terri Schiavo. And as Darren pointed out, an inquiry into ‘violent videogames’ was announced. (And, of course, let’s not forget about Janet Jackson’s nipple.) Now, Congress (more properly, the House of Representatives) has seen fit to stick their collective nose somewhere else it doesn’t belong: digital music.

This is the reason people become disenchanted with government. Gas prices are at their highest level since the 1970’s gas crisis, Social Security is headed into the crapper, and, of course, we still can’t find a six foot tall Saudi on dialysis. And there’s the little matter of an unwinnable war in the Middle East. And our elected representatives are spending their time (and our tax money) talking about…well, here’s Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to tell you what these hearings are all about:

“Legitimate questions have been raised regarding the impact of digital interoperability on consumers. […] This interoperability issue is of concern to me since consumers who bought legal copies of music from Real could not play them on an iPod. I suppose this is a good thing for Apple, but perhaps not for consumers. Generally speaking, companies with 75 percent market share of any business, in this case the digital download market, need to step up to the plate when it comes to testifying on policy issues that impact their industry.”

[Hm…he’s a Republican from Texas…gee, isn’t that where Dell is headquartered…?]

Reality check: iPod has 75% market share because it’s a good, solid product that does exactly what it is supposed to do, and does it really, really well. iPod had market dominance long before the iTunes Music Store opened some 18 months or so ago. Apple implemented a DRM scheme that, yes, limits iTMS tracks to playback in iTunes and the iPod, but also allows the user to do exactly what they could do with a physical CD – make backup copies and share tracks with friends. (And yes, it’s possible to defeat Apple’s FairPlay DRM, but I’m going going to address that.)

It’s human nature to attack the guy on top. It was no surprise when Dell, Gateway, Creative, Sony, iRiver and others went after Apple with new offerings designed to be ‘iPod killers’. And it was no surprise when Napster, Sony Connect, and Real challenged the iTMS. But that’s the nature of a free market economy. In the end, the superior products and services stay in the market, and the lousy ones fall away, to be replaced by newer, better competition for the market leaders. I don’t see the words “and then the government gets involved” anywhere in that description.

Maybe the problem here is that the people elected to the House of Representatives are up for reelection every two years – they can never really stop campaigning, so the legislation they introduce, and the hearings they call reflect that mentality. Would longer terms in the house (supplanted by term limits) allow our elected officials to focus on more critical issues? I sure as hell don’t know. But it couldn’t hurt.

One last thing – this is directed at Rep. Smith: Hands off my iPod, bitch.