Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, has received almost more publicity from his public letter yesterday about digital rights management (DRM) than his iPhone escapade in January. My assumption, per my earlier post on Microsoft’s hellish DRM on Vista, is that this is both a smart PR move against Microsoft and a legal and ethical push from a “consumer-centric” company for open music formats.
I’m a proponent of open systems and open sources and, although I don’t believe in taking intellectual property that an artist, writer, or engineer does not want to be taken, DRM systems always struck me as plain dumb. The big music companies spend a lot of time huffing and puffing about stolen music but they produce music CDs which essentially allow the distribution of that same music. Jobs gets it right:
Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. 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 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. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.
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.
I’ve never seen this argument publicly made; perhaps it took a genius like Jobs like to do it.
I’ll let the Mac-heads and the laywers sort everything out while I relish in the visuals of Apple’s visual history on Flickr.