Please give Fairplay to the RIAA


I can’t actually verify this, but I’m willing to bet I was one of the first hundred people to download a track from iTunes. It was great and evil at the same time. Instantly I could legally download music, and instantly my wife put me on an allowance. I could sleep at night now that my Napster and Kazaa days of borrowing from other people were over, the risk of viral attack minimized, and best of all I was back on a Mac.

Then I decided to reload my Macs, and discovered the wonder of FairPlay DRM. From that point on, I knew that DRM and interoperability couldn’t exist. We all knew it, but in 2004 there was no better answer it seemed. The music distributors we’re angry that the Internet was a perfect venue for perfect copying of their intellectual property. If something wasn’t going to stop the Internet, then it was either a pack of hungry lawyers hunt down the grab asses or have Apple fix the problem. Unfortunately, the tech world knows what Apple delivered isn’t the best solution since we are all a little unhappy about the restrictions.

Face the music that Apple doesn’t really care about the DRM or Fairplay. It’s the music industry who wouldn’t sign off on the iTunes store without Fairplay technology. Of course Fairplay gives Apple the historical control they thrive for in their products but I feel that is secondary to the real issue. Now that Apple has made iTunes/iPod a huge success, the labels are mad that they don’t control it. In the Daring Fireball article Jamieson’s states

“It’s not particularly healthy for any one company to have such a dominant share.”

Riiiiiiight. What he really means is that it’s it’s not healthy for the record labels to ‘hand over’ control of their distribution to one company alone. Which is silly because it isn’t as though iTunes is the only distribution means on the Internet. Capitalism isn’t an immediate balance ecosystem; there will always be a dominating player in the beginning.

Think about this possibility: When the iTunes store shuts down, what do you think Apple will do for the billions of tracks they have sold to their customers? Do they expect to keep their customers if Apple said “Oh, sorry about that. You’ll need to go out and buy those tracks again.” Of course not, Apple has already thought about this. They’ve done a fantastic job keeping the DRM in iTunes usable to most people. Yet when the day comes, and it will, Apple will send out an application that removes the DRM restrictions or face heavy financial losses.

Apple should give the iPod, the store, and iTunes to the RIAA in this case. It’s obvious the record industry won’t be happy until they claim it. When the day comes, they will undermine themselves in the download market because Fairplay will get ‘adjusted’. It seems in their view that unless they maintain a monopoly they will continue to push tracks from Fergie and Gwen Stefani on us. I really want good music to come back to the iTunes home page. Until the RIAA can focus on, dare I say, music we’re stuck listening to the same two artists over and over again until we think we like it.

“iPods currently only play unprotected MP3 files, such as those ripped from CDs, or songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. It applies its own Digital Rights Management (DRM) to the downloads it sells, that prevents them from being compatible with non-iPod music players. The DRM also prevents downloads purchased from most other legal download services, such as Napster and HMV Digital, from playing on iPods.”

What? Just because Microsoft created PlaysForSure (and subsequently abandoned it for Zune) Apple is wrong now? I call the B.S. flag here, because again Apple would have made the iTunes store with or without DRM if the labels allowed it then. Watch the intro Jobs gave on the iPod.

Jobs eludes to the eventual iTunes store by saying he believes people would download a song for a buck. He doesn’t say “Gee if we wrap this up in some awesome DRM consumers would be thrilled to have their purchases managed by us”. DRM is a trade off for an unhappy monopoly who can’t accept the fact that DRM and interoperability are technically and politically unfeasible. Digital Rights Management in its own wording is contradictory. The benefit of digital is exact and perfect copying capability, and rights management is the politically correct way to say law.



My problem with all of this is that the music industry is the only one who treats customers with the “you are a thief and you are costing us money” attitude.
The same scenario with a different product would be having to pay to enter the store for the stealing you WILL do and getting frisked on the way out.

I understand the need to protect copyright. But treating every customer as a thief is not the solution.

I loved this quote:
“It’s not particularly healthy for any one company to have such a dominant share.”
But it’s ok for an organization created by the industry to make all the rules and control all of the big stores? Nice!

Vincent Tavera

I agree with a lot of this, DRM can protect the industry, but also leave a bad taste in the mouth of users. of course there are ways around the DRM, but that isn’t something that I would do unless in a case like Richard’s where he reformatted his macs.


“Fairplay gives Apple the historical control they thrive for in their products”

What a crock! There is no fairplay or other control on Mac OS X – now or historically.

Doug Petrosky

There is a time and a place for everything. Ultimately, it would be very bad if Apple or any company held 80-90% dominance in the distribution of music. But that is not the case today. Even of legal downloads, Apple has about 75% market share and that represents some 10% of legal music purchases (most coming from CD sales). So Apples total market share in this industry is actually quite small. But on the other hand it has been large enough to allow them some say in fair pricing of downloaded music.

So, lets say that having more than 40% market share is when things start to get bad (which would indicate that MS is already double bad in the OS market but that is another story). So if Apple has 80% of the online music market, and that market accounts for 50% of total sales, then it would be worth while to start to restrict things.

One other thing people should think about with DRM. I know many people think Apple should support WMA and or license FairPlay. Well, remember that to add WMA to the iPod would require Apple to license WMA. No big deal you say! Creative Labs is willing to pay the extra $1/player tax to Microsoft so why not Apple???? Well, because not only would apple have to pay for all of the players already out there and all future players, It would have to license WMA for every copy of OS X or songs that you could play on your iPod would not be supported in iTunes. This is not an issue for Creative because Microsoft provides WMA DRM in windows and Creative Labs does not support the Mac.

It seems more likely that Apple would license FairPlay than support WMA. At least that way they would be making revenue, not loosing it and they could maintain some level of control. But how much should a company pay to license FairPlay? Would Microsoft be willing to license FairPlay for Windows and pay per install?

It is more complicated than you think and not as bad as you make out. Let this play out for a few more years and see where good competition takes it.

Ed Murphy

Clearly we’re in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation here – the original ‘rip, mix, burn’ ethos of Apple had to give way to DRM because of the record labels.

Let’s be fair, if you buy a CD and rip it then you should be able to play it on your iPod (actually you can). If the record industry want to limit and control copying then that may be their call.

The issue really is that Fairplay and other DRM’s limit where and how you can playback YOUR copy of music. So what we need is a truly ‘open’ DRM system that allows YOU the owner to play on YOUR devices, regardless of who makes the player.

I have no problem with paying for music, but I do have a problem with being forced to use particular players.

As such, rather than give Fairplay to the RIAA, what Apple should do is give the world a GPL Fairplay (ie open source it). Then the RIAA couldn’t insist on a heavy licence fee or control the end user costs of tracks.

Jamie Steven

I agree “it’s it’s not healthy for the record labels to ‘hand over’ control of their distribution to one company alone.”

However I would also argue it’s not healthy for Apple to have this monopoly on DRM either; regardless if they wanted it or not.

I would prefer no-DRM, but next to that I’d prefer a DRM model that worked with several players and not one that was locked to iTunes and my iPod only.

My two cents.


Nice post Todd. My new beef with DRM now is that people seem to accept it, as if the next version will somehow be better than the current version.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
-Albert Einstein

Fritz Attaway of the MPAA was recently on an episode of “Buzz Out Loud” discussing DRM. Both the hosts and Fritz agreed that a DRM system that let you retain some of your Fair Use rights as a consumer would be good. Problem is, such a system is essentially impossible. Cory Doctorow has said, “Unless your software can simulate a fully empaneled on-bank body of Supreme Court justices it probably can’t determine whether a use is fair or unfair.”

The other problem is that we’re seemingly caught in an infinite loop. If you say “screw the labels and their DRM” and just go to BitTorrent from now on, that just makes the labels push harder with DRM.

So I buy CDs, which are slightly more expensive and less convenient than going to iTunes, but I don’t get any DRM, I have a higher quality digital copy, and I have a physical backup already.

And I don’t think it’s a good idea to give the iPod to the RIAA. The device would cost $500, and you wouldn’t be buying a device at all, only a license, which you would have to renew. Tracks would cost $3 and you would be forced to download the latest singles from the top 40, and the fast forward and skip-to-next functionality would be disabled.


When the music industry starts to think about their users and their artists and not their profit margin, and when digital music player manufacturers are allowed to support multi-formats then I will give a shit.

I have a CD collection of somewhere between 1000 and 1200 bought and paid for CD’s, collected over the last 15 years. Technically I am not allowed to transfer them to a digital format withought paying a royalty.

When the “entire industry” agree’s a format, and even a DRM for that format I will buy CD’s and rip them, and I will continue to download rip’d tracks. And I suggest you do the same.

I’ve paid my dues to this industry and all they have done is treat me like crap and call me a theif. So be it.

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