In a message posted on the Apple website, entitled “Thoughts on Music”, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, has urged consumers unhappy with DRM to lobby the big four music companies, Universal, EMI, Sony BMG, and Warner to eliminate DRM for music downloads. He says DRM has never worked and may never work to stop music piracy.
At present, most digital downloads from music download sites such as Apples iTunes are copy protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management) software so that they cannot be played back on other manufacturers equipment.
The situation is becoming increasingly of concern to consumers as Apple’s competitors enter the music and video player market. Microsoft, for example, has its Zune player and their own online music store. Most large download sites have their own proprietary DRM systems that are incompatible with those of other competitors.
Even much of the content purchased in physical stores, such as DVD’s and Video Games is DRM protected. The new Blu-Ray and HD-DVD disks are incompatible with the other’s players and systems. So not only can you not play content for one system on another, in the future, if DRM becomes the norm, some movies or music may be only available for a particular manufacturers system, and you may need multiple sets of hardware to play the item.
Already, there is talk Apple has done an exclusive deal for a three month period to release the Beatles content on Apple’s iTunes only. If true, Zune buyers and others might be out of luck.
Job’s says that effectively Apple has no choice but to impose DRM on its users, and that the restrictions are mandated by the music and movie industries.
Jobs says Apple would embrace a DRM free world where, “any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players “, in a heartbeat”.
He also points out the apparent hypocrisy of the music industry in targeting the download market for special restrictions, while he says 90% of all music is sold DRM free anyway. He says last year less than 2 billion songs were sold online with DRM protection, while more than 20 billion were sold on CD completely unprotected.
Apple has been under increasing attack in Europe over its Fairplay digital rights system which officials say may unfairly lock people into using only Apple products. Many want Apple to licence its system to other manufacturers so they also can offer playback of Fairplay encoded songs.
Job’s position is that Apple is between a rock and a hard place with licencing its DRM technology. He says that inherently, DRM relies on secrecy to work, and that the past has shown that licencing this type of technology to numerous companies around the world will inevitably result in key secrets being disclosed sooner or later.
If that happened it would be disastrous for Apple. Apple has strict contracts with the music companies which state that if the Apple DRM system is hacked or compromised allowing anyone to freely copy iTunes songs, and Apple does not fix the problem quickly, Apple will lose its rights to sell the music.
The full text of Jobs thoughts can be found here: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughtsonmusic/