Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jobs makes plea for DRM-free music downloads

Apple has been continually buffeted by European politicians and governments over the last few months. Norway, France, Germany, Netherlands.

Apple’s proprietary DRM (Digital Rights Management) system—FairPlay—locks songs downloaded from iTunes into Apple’s iPod products. If you choose to ditch your Nano and buy a Zune from Microsoft, then any purchased music can’t come with you. However, anything you ripped of your own CDs will continue to be quite portable.

Jobs published an open letter on the Apple website yesterday to outline his thoughts. He was clearly reacting to the increasing pressure that EU countries are putting Apple under. Yet, he does make quite valid points.

  • The record companies insisted that Apple use DRM to secure their artist’s work. Yet only 3% of music stored on iPods has been downloaded from iTunes. So the rest of the content has either been ripped from CDs—which have no CRM protection (other than Sony’s botched attempt last year)—or are unsecured podcasts and personal recordings.
  • Keeping a DRM working requires keeping the keys secret, so licensing it to other music stores increases the risk of FairPlay being hacked (more often than it currently is) and makes the job of re-securing it very cumbersome (involves changing iTunes software and sometimes updating iPod firmware).
  • It might be better for the music industry to abolish the use of DRM.

“In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves …

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.”

Jobs finishes by saying that if the big four music companies could be persuaded to sell their music DRM-free (through Apple’s iTunes and others) then

“Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.”

(What Jobs forgot to make plain was that DRM-free music it would save Apple a lot of cost and effort to strip out the DRM and not have to support it going forward! They could concentrate on usability instead of security.)

Update: BBC News has run a story about music industry opinions on ridding music of DRM.


Anonymous said...

Alan, this is fascinating. I always figured Jobs was pushing DRM, since most of his products are proprietary. But, I am yet again, proven wrong.

I love Apple products, especially since they started using Intel cores, so I can dual-boot. Of course, I don't know why anybody would want to deflower an exquisite MacBook, with Windows XP. :-)

Fantabulous Post!

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