Steve Jobs on DRM

ByJoCo February 7, 2007

An interesting open letter from Steve Jobs about DRM was posted yesterday on the Apple site, in which he explains some of the reasoning behind why Apple hasn’t licensed their FairPlay scheme to anyone, and why he thinks that DRM is stupid. He’s right – it’s never worked, and it will never work. As he says, record companies sell much more unprotected music on CDs than they do protected music online, so what’s the big deal? There’s also talk (I hear things) that some of the major labels may be considering a move to plain old, unprotected mp3 format instead of locking everything up so that consumers can’t do what they want with the music they buy. Great idea major labels! Keep this up and you may one day catch up with old Coulton.


hugh says

Somehow I don't see the major labels setting up feeds to deliver their new releases free to fans, so I doubt they will ever catch up with Coulton.

Hugh Brackett
Director, Coulton Observation Center

Spiff says

A friend of mine made the point that one of Job's central points is a bit of a red herring -- sure, the record companies do release 90% of their music on non-protected CDs, but that doesn't mean they will eventually agree that they should release the remaining 10% they sell online with no protection either. Rather, they see it as a huge mistake to have not put DRM on CDs and given the chance, they will never make that mistake again. The movie industry seems to have learned that lesson too, because when they invented DVDs, the first thing they did was shackle them with DRM.

Matt says

There's an interesting article on this over at Audio Video Revolution.

Zac says

I agree, Spiff. If the record industry had its way, you wouldn't be able to copy any CD, no matter how much that violates fair use provisions.

Daikun says

If he hates DRM so much, then why'd he put it on his company's products on the first place?

ash says

Jobs put DRM into iTunes in the first place because he was trying to establish a market for downloading music one has purchased. No one was really doing that, either you bought music online and had a CD shipped to you, or you downloaded music illegally, without paying for it. However, he was trying to do this at the height of piracy scare, when all sorts of companies were making all sorts of speculations about how many millions of dollars they were losing due to piracy. So in order to convince the major labels to let them sell their music, he had to convince them it would be difficult for people to listen to a music file they didn't pay for. And the above comments were right about DRM on CDs and such. If the record companies and movie studios had their way, we would all have chips implanted in our brains that could detect when we were listening or watching one of their intellectual properties and directly charge our credit cards.

Of course, with all this control also comes some limitations. I initially bought into all that Apple was selling me. I used the iTunes Music Store frequently. But ever since I started preferring my Linux desktop over my Apple laptop, and since Apple has effectively blocked the usability of the only program I knew that could remove the DRM from songs bought at the iTMS (thus preventing me from being able to listen to them on my Linux desktop), I've gone back to buying used CDs.

Brad says

I don't mind paying for my music. In fact, I feel that if I enjoy a song, the artist deserves financial compensation if that's what they are looking for.

That being said, if I pay for my music, I expect to be able to listen to it on any device I own in any manner I want. I want a CD for the car, I want a digital file for my home computer, my work computer, my portable player.

I hope that most music listeners are in the same boat. If they are, that's why DRM will eventually fail.

Eric Ginsberg says

This past September, at the Austin City Limits festival, everyone got an iTunes card. When you get home and punch in the code on the back, you get 2 CDs worth of songs from the indie artists who performed, not the regular iTunes gift card where you get to pick whatever you'd like.

This could very well be the future of album sales. $10 gets you a card, so there's still point of purchase at concerts and rack-jobbers (like when you're at the super-market and they have 5 albums at the check-out), but they'll be cheaper than pressing thousands of CDs, and cheaper to ship ('cause they weigh less), and an artist can print their own artwork on the card.

Time will tell, but if iTunes ever offers this option to indie artists like you and I, I would absolutely do it. I'd run maybe 100-200 CDs, via Discmakers' CD-r option, limited release only (for non-computer-savvy fans).