Thoughts On Thoughts On Steve Jobs Thoughts on Music Minus Macrovision’s Response

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Apple is pushing the interoperability blame by Norway from themselves onto the Music Labels.

Yeah, sure. So what? It’s always been widely acknowledged that the big 4 major music labels want DRM on their music (although, apparently EMI might be reconsidering). So, since there’s no such thing as interoperable DRM and the music labels are pushing for this ‘un-interoperability’, then why is Apple being reprimanded for it?

There’s also the fact that making an essay about how you would make all your content unprotected is going a bit too far if all you wanted to do was to continue selling music in a particular region. Norway is very likely a drop in the bucket for iTunes Store sales. They wouldn’t be doing something like this because of losing Norwegian customers. If Norway won’t let them sell music without licensing FairPlay, Apple would just pull the store. Simple as that.1

Apple is just taking advantage of the fact that music labels will never sell unprotected content and are instead just riding on the coattails of the concept.

First off, all of this content will become available as unprotected content, and downloading music off the net will become the norm. It’s up to the music labels to decide whether they want to be apart of that. If consumers decide that paying for protected content sucks, then the music labels are going to get left behind. Their scare tactics (suing everyone) doesn’t scale very well.

My second point is that I believe that the music labels will definitely go for unprotected content very soon. We’re already seeing signs of it happening (see the EMI link above for another example). Of course, there is the fact that growth is beginning to slow, but there’s also the fact that the music labels don’t have a lot of control when it comes to the sales of music online. That’s because they’ve put all of their eggs in one basket: iTunes. Apple wields so much power with legal online music sales that the music labels actually find it hard to negotiate with them. Take the labels’ push for variable pricing for individual tracks as an example. They were out there publicly boo-hooing about how they should be the ones to decide the pricing of their songs. Except, well, it never happened. Every song on iTunes in every country that it’s available (except for Japan) has a flat-rate pricing structure and the prices never changed. This wouldn’t have happened if DRM wasn’t their in the first place. It was because of the music labels’ push for DRM and the fact that Apple’s DRM scheme works only with the most popular mp3 player on the planet that put them in the position that they are now.

Third. Regardless of whether the music labels are going to sell unprotected content or not, Steve Jobs never had to say anything in the first place. More specifically, he didn’t have to say that Apple would switch to selling unprotected content in the iTunes Store:

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 DRM-free music.

Now Jobs and Apple are expected to keep that promise. If Apple doesn’t want to sell unprotected content, then making an essay about how you would switch to it when you’re being forced not to is pretty contradictory.

What about video?

Obviously, if music can be sold unprotected, then video can be too. However, the sales of video online isn’t ready for this. It’s still in it’s infancy, and not enough people actually care enough yet. Gruber also makes an interesting point:

Jobs makes the point in his essay that 90 percent of all music is sold DRM-free on CDs; DVDs, on the other hand, are copy-protected.

Steve Jobs Reasons for Not Licensing FairPlay Are Bogus.

I agree. What does Jobs have to say about this?

However, 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.

So why don’t you just get more time from the labels. They’ve been pushing for Apple to embrace this whole ‘interoperable drm’ idea for some time. I’m sure they would be willing to give Apple more time.

The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute. Such leaks can rapidly result in software programs available as free downloads on the Internet which will disable the DRM protection so that formerly protected songs can be played on unauthorized players.

An equally serious problem is how to quickly repair the damage caused by such a leak. A successful repair will likely involve enhancing the music store software, the music jukebox software, and the software in the players with new secrets, then transferring this updated software into the tens (or hundreds) of millions of Macs, Windows PCs and players already in use. This must all be done quickly and in a very coordinated way. Such an undertaking is very difficult when just one company controls all of the pieces. It is near impossible if multiple companies control separate pieces of the puzzle, and all of them must quickly act in concert to repair the damage from a leak.

Except that Microsoft already does this with PlaysForSure and there haven’t been any more breaches to PlaysForSure then there have been for Fairplay.

Jobs does make an interesting point about the Zune though.

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. Perhaps this same conclusion contributed to Microsoft’s recent decision to switch their emphasis from an “open” model of licensing their DRM to others to a “closed” model of offering a proprietary music store, proprietary jukebox software and proprietary players.

Sure, that might have been a likely factor in the decision to make the Zune. But I really doubt that if PlaysForSure had been successful that Microsoft would have decided to go through with the stupid decision of making another DRM format. In other words, it was the failure of PlaysForSure that caused the creation of the Zune, not the complications involved with licensing out a DRM scheme.2

Steve Jobs is being hypocritical because Apple sells independent music on iTunes that is not necessarily sold with DRM protection (like at eMusic).

It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? I actually think that something is stopping Apple from selling this music in an unprotected format. I think it’s a very real possibility that the music labels force Apple to sell all of their music in a protected format. The Macalope gives a good explanation.

Apple’s agreement with the big four may say they can’t offer DRM-free music as the recording industry executives might fear that the great communist scourge of uncontrolled music files would eat their lunch and make love to their women better than they can.

No one has been able to confirm this, but I still think it’s the case.

– – – –

Overall, I think that there’s some fallacy in Jobs’ letter. However, there is still a lot of truth to it. He brings up good points and makes a promise to sell DRM-free content if the Big 4 labels stand down on DRM. If Steve Jobs and Apple really wanted to continue this iTunes/iPod lock-in, this letter never would have come out in the first place.

1. Although I do believe that the Norway issue did factor into the decision to make this essay.

2. One may ask: Why the hell does Apple do this? Well, there’s a very complicated answer. In short, Apple just works that way. Sometimes there’s a real benefit to doing so, and sometimes there isn’t. It’s just the nature of the company to lock these things down. In there mind, somewhere down the road they might suddenly find that it gives them an advantage.


Written by Kumaran Vijayan

February 16, 2007 at 8:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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