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.”

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