Thursday, February 8

Jobs admits: DRM doesn't work for music

Either someone's been slipping truth serum into Steve Job's herbal tea, or he's hugely frustrated at being caught between the record labels and the European courts over their moves to bust open Apple's FairPlay Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. Possibly both. Why else would the great man of mystery come out with a lengthy essay on the Apple website titled "Thoughts on Music" detailing what he sees as three possible scenarios for the future of online music?

To paraphrase, according to Jobs;

1. The major labels won't license music to Apple unless it is sold with DRM protection.

2. DRM doesn't work very well and won't work at all if Apple is forced to licence its DRM technology to other vendors.

2. The music industry is the primary source of pirated music, not online stores, since a CD carries no DRM and CD sales still dwarf online music sales.

3. It's unfair of the major labels to require Apple to include DRM protection, and Apple should be allowed to sell music unprotected.

I couldn't agree more with Jobs. In fact, the major labels are experimenting with selling unprotected music on other sites, such as Yahoo!, already. Even the dinosaurs of the music industry might be able to see that the time to wind DRM back is coming.

But in addition to the three alternatives Jobs offers for the future of online music, I'd like to offer a fourth:

Apple should consider the leverage it now enjoys in online music sales. What would happen if Apple decided to drop the major labels' catalogues from iTunes altogether until they agree to let Apple sell their content DRM-free? I think Apple underestimates the loyalty of iPod and iTunes owners. I think the majority of customers would side with Apple in a battle with the labels over banning DRM-protected music. And with Apple's help, independent music would flourish in the interim, with consumers encouraged to try and buy music from outside the major labels' marketing aura.

Apple could free the music industry from the dead brake hand of the major labels, turning the industry on its head and setting artists, consumers and Apple free for an open, flexible future where it's the quality of the music, not the amount spent promoting it, that determines its success.

Ah, I can dream, can't I?...

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