Steve Jobs makes case for DRM-free music

Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs has posted an open letter on Apple’s website with his thoughts on digital rights management (DRM) and the iTunes/iPod lock-in. The letter examines two ways in which Apple could enable interoperability between music purchased on its iTunes Store and third-party music players. The first would be for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM scheme to third parties. However, Jobs says that if FairPlay becomes compromised, record companies only give Apple a few weeks to fix it before they’re free to withdraw their entire music catalog from the iTunes Store. Jobs says patching things up in time is already difficult to do for Apple alone, but that it would be “near impossible” to coordinate if multiple companies used FairPlay.

The second and more interesting option would be to get rid of DRM altogether. Jobs is surprisingly eager about this possibility, saying that “if the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, [Apple] would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store.” Jobs argues that over 90% of the music sold by record labels today—on CD—is unprotected, and that encapsulating the remainder with DRM presents no apparent benefits. DRM systems, he says, “haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.” Jobs concludes that if record labels were willing to do away with DRM, “the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players.”

Jobs closes in saying that European users who have pressured Apple to break the iPod/iTunes lock-in should instead work to convince record labels to do away with DRM. “Two and a half” of the world’s big four record labels are based in Europe, he says, and “convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace.”

Comments closed
    • jcradd
    • 13 years ago

    My guess is that Jobs knows he may be indicted for stock options backdating and he is trying to get the unwashed masses in his corner as much as possible before that happens.
    DRM is necessary because the vast majority of people are dishonest. Record sales are most certainly off because of piracy and to suggest anything else is either idiotic or dishonest.

      • pluscard
      • 13 years ago

      “DRM is necessary because the vast majority of people are dishonest.”

      Simply an amazing statement.

    • FroBozz_Inc
    • 13 years ago

    Kudos to Jobs…

      • wierdo
      • 13 years ago

      Man…Apple’s fairplay stance was looking bad, but Jobs has done a great job in refocusing the attention of critics to record companies, thus vindicating the corporate policy itself with what sounds like a logical reason for them being the way they are. I must say I can buy this, because I think record companies are the ones that need to be pushed instead of their virtual shopping outlet.

      Then again, considering that European pressure, maybe that’s why Jobs is now speaking up against the cartel 😉

    • pluscard
    • 13 years ago

    It’s actually not in the record companies interest to use DRM. Sales are off, and it’s not because of piracy.

    Record companies are hated by both artists and consumers.

    DRM is treating all customers as potential thieves. Where is the benefit to being at odds with your customers?

    Rather than using new tech to distribute more content, Jobs says 90% of sales are still on CDs. This is the best example I can cite to show DRM doesn’t benefit the label, the artist, or the consumer.

    Kudos to Jobs. I’m not a fan, but he’s right on this one.

    • eloj
    • 13 years ago

    Amazing dichotomy between what they say and what they do. “Oh yeah, I don’t like DRM at all. Never mind us being the biggest suppliers of DRMed {hard|soft}ware in the world, just ignore that, because I… umm… don’t like DRM. Trust me. DRM bad. BUY IPODS/ZUNES/VISTA!”


    It’s right up there with Google helping the chinese government in their oppression, under the banner of “don’t be evil” […unless it renders a buck, and then just keep on talking about how not evil we are]

      • wierdo
      • 13 years ago

      Erm… Did you actually read his explanation?

      It makes sense for them not to give Fairplay away, but if the record companies quit this ridiculous DRM stuff then the Fairplay dilemma becomes a non-issue.

      Of course, it does also help that the Europeans are pushing on Apple enough to make Jobs start “squealing” like this.

        • SGWB
        • 13 years ago


    • provoko
    • 13 years ago

    Maybe Apple wants to do away with DRM because they don’t want to F*** up and delay their OS and drivers with DRM.

    But eliminating DRM is a very good goal and I can set my Apple hatred aside just this once, haha.

    • adisor19
    • 13 years ago

    Indeed SJ does have quite an interest to get rid of DRM as it currently poses a problem in some Euro countires. That being said, i have no problem supporting his stance. DRM is evil and if he manages to start a movement that will be the demise of DRM then more power to him as this will be a Good Thing TM for all of us.


    • Kharnellius
    • 13 years ago

    Awesome! Simply, awesome!!! I’m totally stoked he said that. It really does make a lot of sense. (and this is coming from somebody who refuses to use services like limewire, etc.)

    • firestorm02
    • 13 years ago

    /Golf clap

    It’s odd to hear commonsense being promoted by a corporate entity although refreshing.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 13 years ago

    Makes sense to me, but I can’t help but think he’s looking to eliminate DRM as a way to expand the iTMS into countries who don’t allow such nonsense. WHich is good for Apple, of course, but it has the side-effect of being good for us. This is spin, though I’m cautiously optimistic.

    • FireGryphon
    • 13 years ago

    How often do CEOs of companies say things that are so straightforward and make sense? I’m not surprised that it’s coming from Jobs, either.

    This might make Apple’s relationship with the recording industry more tenuous, but it certainly relieves some of the legal pressure Apple’s been feeling in Europe. It’s important to remember that this isn’t the first we’ve heard about doing away with DRM in music. A recent analysis of the industry revealed just such advice. The idea could be gaining more momentum than we allow ourselves to think.

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 13 years ago

    This is probably the first time I agreed with something he said, much less cared. (afaik)
    DRM sucks, and if steve leads us out of the media nazi age, I’m all for it.
    I hate to say it, but Go Apple!

    • Jeratain
    • 13 years ago

    I’m glad Jobs came out on the bandwagon to say this.

    Of course, Bill Gates has also come out a while back to voice his distaste in DRM: §[<<]§

      • Corrado
      • 13 years ago

      The thing is, Bill Gates really has not much more say in it than we did up until very recently, and even still today as the Zune Marketplace hasn’t exactly been a hot commodity. At least iTMS makes a boatload of sales and has some weight behind it that they can use as leverage. Billy boy on the other hand, its really no different than any other ‘celebrity’ endorsing something.

    • SNM
    • 13 years ago

    That’s a really good letter. It’s obviously in Apple’s self-interest to publish it, but in this case it’s very much true. I really can’t refute any of the points he makes.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 13 years ago

    It’s very easy to say that “we’d go without DRM if we could” when you’re heads and shoulders above your competition in the digital music distribution and digital music player business.

    If Apple didn’t have such a lead, they would be complaining about the other companies DRMs (whomever else would be in the lead).

      • Taddeusz
      • 13 years ago

      Of course. But who wouldn’t?

      Also, keeping this in context. Apple is mainly a hardware company. Anything they do in business should lead people back to the sales of more hardware. Many people don’t seem to understand that the iPod drives iTunes sales.

      I personally have not purchased that much from iTunes. I have a little when I get really lazy. But most of the time I feel more comfortable buying the physical CD’s over something so intangible. Of course I keep it all backed up. I would feel more comfortable buying music from the iTunes store if it weren’t laden with DRM, even as reasonable as FairPlay actually is. I just wish more players supported AAC.

    • ludi
    • 13 years ago

    Kudos to Jobs, even if he has self-interested reasons for saying it. The only way to get any momentum on this is to keep the ball rolling. Having the bar-none largest vendor of MP3 players say it, is a nice boost.

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