If you went to Apple.com last week, then you might have seen an article written by Steve Jobs about DRM and the music industry called Thoughts on Music. In the article Job talks about the history of DRM (digital rights management) and how companies, including Apple, who sell music online have to change in order to survive.
In case you haven’t read the article yet, the bottom line is Jobs doesn’t like digital rights management and thinks it has been ineffective at stopping music piracy. The root of his argument is how music companies failed to come together and create an audio CD format with built in copy-protection.
Here’s a quote from the article:
“Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.”
In contrast, the movie industry was able to set aside their differences and DVDs were invented with copy-protection built in. So since the music industry can’t get their act together, what should happen now?
If Steve Jobs has his way, DRM would be abolished entirely:
“Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.”
So why would Jobs write this letter and why now? Recently there’s been a lot of pressure coming from Europe, including consumer groups in Germany and France. The Europeans claim that Apple’s iTunes Store violates consumer laws because iTunes songs can only be played on iPods. Since the iPod has about 80% of the portable media player market, the Europeans believe that Apple is stifling competition.
The other option would be for Apple to license their DRM technology, called FairPlay, to other companies. Licensing FairPlay could end up making Apple a lot more money in the long run, but Jobs doesn’t want Apple’s secrets behind the FairPlay technology leaked, copied or modified by hackers. He’d rather just do away with DRM altogether. That would be the easiest solution for everyone… especially the consumer.
I give Jobs a lot of credit. Who knows, years from now people may look back at this article as the Emancipation Proclamation for digital music.
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