Steve Jobs Calls For an End to DRM

Following up on the few comments in class on DRM (Digital Rights Management)-protected files, Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote a lil essay today titled “Thoughts on Music.” Web users and digital media companies have been calling for an end to DRM for some months now as has nearly everyone short of the RIAA, which represents the big 4 labels comprising the recording industry oligarchy.

There has been a flood of blog posts today that try to decipher exactly what Jobs is getting at. Is this a mea culpa? Chest-beating? A cryptic call to direct negotiations with the majors?

The biggest nugget in the essay is Jobs’ claim that, should the labels agree to drop current DRM, the iTunes store “switch to selling only DRM-free music,” which means it would be compatible with all music players, among other things. Personally, I’d be shocked if the labels and the RIAA agreed to anything close to this. On the other hand, after the success of the iPod, Apple really has the consumer in it’s core — does Jobs have the entire entertainment industry up his sleeve as well? We shall see. He’s already down with Disney, and a copyright/content deal with the majors (like Google/YouTube recently did) is not an impossibility.

Other reasons Jobs is making what appears to be his first ever blog post could relate to a digital music antitrust lawsuit alledging that Apple “locks” consumers into its platform. Jobs lays out these three scenarios:

1) stick with DRM. Apple keeps winning.

2) Apple licenses its FairPlay DRM system (which was devised at the behest of the labels).

3) The music industry agrees to license their music to online stores without DRM.

Below is a bit more from Jobs’ essay:

…Some have called for Apple to “open” the digital rights management (DRM) system that Apple uses to protect its music against theft […] Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats.

Cory Doctorow and others are optimistic about this “big news.”

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