The Music Wars: Steve Jobs gets right – and wrong – with DRM

In Consumerism, Freedom of Information, Music on February 7, 2007 at 7:33 pm

Eric, a friend of the blog, sent us the following article. Thanks Eric!


In yet another brazen move by the newly re-named Apple, Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs posted an open letter the to music industry yesterday calling for an end to the encoding of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software into the MP3 files it sells on iTunes, a process demanded by the Major Labels that license their catalogs to Apple. At the very least, it is a fairly informative look at the untold struggles and compromises the juggernaut has had to deal with, and shows that Jobs is continuing to flex his muscle as music’s 400 lbs. Gorilla to really bring some common sense changes to this languishing business. Here is the full article (hyperlink: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughtsonmusic/)

Stevie boy did, though, make quite an erroneous statement in this posting:

“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.”

Really? Perhaps he should’ve used his iPhone to Google Sony’s train-wreck attempt at incorporating DRM into their CDs just last year

(from > http://technocrat.net/d/2007/1/30/14032):

The FTC has posted an advisory about the proposed final settlement with Sony over their CD DRM rootkit installs they attempted last year. Consumers can get up to 150 dollars back for cleaning out the kits, and sony has to pay a fine and agree to play nice. However; you can still file a comment if you write to the FTC on this matter.

From the FTC:


“Sony BMG Music Entertainment has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated federal law when it sold CDs without telling consumers that they contained software that limited the devices on which the music could be played, restricted the number of copies that could be made, and contained technology that monitored their listening habits to send them marketing messages. According to the FTC, the software also exposed consumers to significant security risks and was unreasonably difficult to uninstall. The proposed settlement requires Sony BMG to clearly disclose limitations on consumers’ use of music CDs, bars it from using collected information for marketing, prohibits it from installing software without consumer consent, and requires it to provide a reasonable means of uninstalling that software. The settlement also requires that Sony BMG allow consumers to exchange the CDs through June 31, 2007, and reimburse consumers for up to $150 to repair damage to their computers that they may have suffered in trying to remove the software.”


Despite this gaffe, my man Jobs makes a strong argument. Given the amount of collective hacking knowledge out in the ether these days, it will never be effective at curbing piracy, and it is ultimately counter-productive for all parties involved to put up barriers to the free flow of information, or in the words of Steve, “interoperability”. These are all issues that have been discussed ad nauseum over the last few years, and this is not the first time Jobs has butted heads with the industry. The Big 4 have tried with little success to introduce variable pricing into iTunes – around $1.25 a song for new releases and $.75 for back catalog, instead of the flat $.99. Though they’ve threatened to create their own sites and sell their catalogs direct, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll risk further alienation of their already pissed-off consumers by asking them to put down their iPods. Increasingly, Apple is being seen as one of the few corporations that not only understands the complex demands of the emerging marketplace, but is also daring enough to gamble on sheer creativity and innovation to meet them.

We must remember, though, that Jobs was not always so altruistic. He was unwilling to grant open licenses to Apple’s operating system in the 1980s and ended up paying dearly for the mistake. Software engineers had to pay to Apple to write programs for their computers, but would write for Windows and Bill Gates for free, it’s one of the reasons we’re all stuck with updating Office every 6 months. As consumers, we should be able to do what we want with the products we purchase, be they mp3s or toasters. But make no mistake, DRM is just as big an obstacle to Apple’s business as it is to our pleasure, and ultimately Jobs will get behind anything to sell more iPods and exert his dominance over the Big 4 to keep licensing rates and price points in his favor. If the doors of content swing wide and happen to hit him or Apple’s profits in the ass, Steve just may decide to change his tune.


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