This Just In: Steve Jobs To Music DRM: Drop Dead

Or something to that effect. The WSJ is touting a breaking news item that “Steve Jobs calls on music companies to drop antipiracy software.” This would place the onus directly on the labels but still allow Apple to continue business as usual. You’ll know more when we do.
Turns out the Jobs’ comments are in a statement posted at Apple.com. He calls it Thoughts on Music but it’s more like the Jobs Manifesto. I’ve never seen anything like this from him but Apple-ologists will know better.
Here’s the gist of the DRM gosopel according to Steve: iPods already play DRM-free music but music sold on iTunes has to have DRM because the major labels want it that way. If the majors didn’t demand DRM, we wouldn’t have it and the Europeans wouldn’t have to pass laws demanding interoperability. He points out that “two and a half of the big four music companies” are European: “Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.”
In the lengthy piece, jobs highlights the “landmark usage rights” Apple was able to negotiate — five devices, unlimited iPod. But, he writes: “a key provision of our agreements with the music companies is that if our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store.” The DRM itself is rooted in secrets — keys that unlock music — and a lot of smart people spen their time hacking those secrets. Jobs: “They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game.” Apple has been successful at keeping FairPlay updated so far, repairing “a few breaches.”
Now Jobs offers three alternatives:
1) continue as is with “top to bottom” proprietary systems. Jobs notes that even though people complain users are being locked into iPod by purchases that can’t be converted to other systems, under 3 percent of the music on an average iPod — 22 songs — comes from iTunes. “Its hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPod in the future.” There’s also no lock in to iTunes, he adds.

2) Apple could license FairPlay DRM to competitors for interoperability. “On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future. And Apple might benefit by charging a small licensing fee for its FairPlay DRM.” But once more people know the secrets it’s more likely they will leak, he argues, something made more difficult by the ease with which things spread online. Repairs would become more complicated. “Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies.” He suggests this conclusion contributed to Zune’s creation.

3) This is where the fun begins — abolish DRM entirely. Jobs, doing his version of Lennon: “Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this. … Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.”

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