The death of DRM

by Giles Turnbull

The most interesting Mac news today is from no less than Steve Jobs himself, author of an extraordinary short essay about the state of DRM in the music industry. It’s extraordinary not just because of what he says, but also the mere fact that he’s saying it this way. He must really have wanted to get this off his chest.


2007-02-06 15:32:23
Q. As Ian Betteridge says - why is FairPlay applied to artists that sell unprotected MP3 files on other stores (emusic, PlayLouder)? What better way to drive the majors to embrace MP3 than making it clear only certain labels/artists want it.
I don't quite buy the 'consumers would be confused' lark. But I presume the devil is in the detail of those agreements (i.e. the majors want all music on iTMS to have DRM, not to be seen as the bad guys).
Chris Adamson
2007-02-06 15:39:04
So who's the intended audience here, European bureaucrats, or the record labels?

I thought he missed an opportunity for a Typical Apple Moment by failing to point out that the non-DRM'ed content on an iPod might also come from the user him- or herself, such as a song created in Garage Band or a podcast created in Soundtrack?

2007-02-06 16:02:36
My biggest fear with Apple and the DRM issue was that Apple truly enojyed the position they had with it. They could claim they were forced to do it by the record companies, but not really fight it too much since there were obvious benefits to the system (the "lock-in" myth and the effective method of freezing out competitors). So long as they maintained a dominating market share of the media player market, DRM only played to their advantage.

This open-letter makes me feel relieved that it doesn't appear to be the case. It appears that Jobs wants to squarely put the responsibility of the DRM system on the shoulders of the music companies and publicly state that Apple is willing to do away with it when given permission.

Yes, there may be a lot of self-interest in taking this position at this time, but it doesn't change the simple fact that Jobs has stated: Apple ... will ... sell ... DRM-free ... music ... if that is an option given to them by the major record labels.

This is a very ... very ... important promise that has been made.

2007-02-06 16:50:14
I'd still prefer, because they sell 320 kbps MP3s instead of 128 kbps AACs.

They have the new Bloc Party album right now for £8.

2007-02-06 17:00:14
Oh yeah: this statement seems pretty obviously aimed at fighting negative PR from the lawsuits in Norway, and wherever else it was over Apple's iTunes "monopoly". It is nice to get the "Apple doesn't like DRM" message straight from the horse's mouth, but I don't think that'll get rid of DRM on its own.
2007-02-06 17:08:19
In regards to Ian Betteridges comment, I wonder if it's a technical issue? The DRM is applied to the tracks at the time of purchase, not when the tracks are prepared for the store. So perhaps the process of applying the DRM is not setup on a per track basis but on a Store-wide setting? Maybe not, but it's a possibility. Moreover, the fact that the DRM is applied at the time of purchase shows that the iTunes Store can deliver non-drm tracks as soon as it is legally allowed to do so!
2007-02-06 21:04:02
I htink we're all thinking too much like geeks and not enough like consumers. This is what Apple does best. If some of the tunes for sale on ITMS were DRM-free and some weren't, this would cause greater hassle for the non-geek consumer (try and drag 250 songs to a friend's iPod or Zune and 50 of them won't copy because of DRM). Greater Hassle is what Apple exists to prevent. That alone is reason enough to make it an all-or-nothing proposition.

This essay by Jobs is extraordinary. He must be *really* pissed at the majors.

Mike Scott
2007-02-06 22:05:17
If Steve Jobs really feels this way about DRM, why isn't he making Pixar's movies available to purchase DRM-free through iTunes? He may not be able to control the major record companies, but he can surely control Pixar.
2007-02-07 02:16:05
I, like you, still buy CDs because iTMS MP3s sound like having your nuts....well crap basically!
2007-02-07 04:32:59
You neglect to mention Steve's point about iTunes/iPod lock-in which is the major gripe we see again and again in the press, and the crux of the monopoly arguments in Europe. Steve claims that only about 3% of the music on the average iPod is protected by DRM. My own and my children's iPods lend credence to that argument. No-one is locked into an iPod unless they cannot find a way to replace less than 3% of their music collection. If anything the removal of DRM would probably increase the percentage of music on the average iPod that comes from iTunes. So obviously Steve would love to see DRM go away.

However the movie industry has a history of adding protection to their video tapes, and discs and also of protecting their markets by the use of region encoded discs. And they do not want DRM to go away anymore than they want people copying DVDs. They are very afraid of eroding their huge margins. And some of these companies are the same ones forcing DRM on the music downloads. So for them to back down on DRM for music will be very difficult because it will make DRM for video that much harder to justify. In fact they are probably very sorry that they do not have protected CDs.

If these companies were to back down on audio, then Steve could very likely force the video issue as well by using the assets of Pixar and Disney to advantage. This could get very interesting.

2007-02-07 05:34:59
Er...except I've heard of DRM or copy-protection for CDs. Some publishers tried it, there were compatiblity problems with some players, the copy-protection could be circumvented with minimal effort, etc. That's why CDs don't have it.

2007-02-07 09:10:05
Don't like Apple's iTunes DRM? Buy the songs on iTunes, burn them to a CD Image (you can burn a playlist several times, no matter what songs are in it), and re-rip as DRM-less MP3 files. Easy peasy and completely allowed by iTunes. It's probably at worst the same hassle of dealing with those plastic disks.
Chris M
2007-02-09 08:39:09
The problem with burning to CD and re-encoding is that you lose some quality. Re-encoding an already encoded file causes more loss. The iTMS encoding is already lossy enough-- no need to add to it.