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A DRM-Free World For Online Music

Posted in Apple,Digital Audio,News by Darrin Olson on February 10th, 2007

Jobs talks about DRM free music in open letterEarlier in the week Steve Jobs released an open letter via the Apple website addressing some “rubs” against Apple for having a digital rights management (DRM) that restricts iTunes music downloads to be played on only iPods.

In the letter Jobs describes how the DRM came to be through restrictions from the larger music companies who were concerned about users pirating music through the iTunes website. The DRM was made to protect downloaded music from being copied freely across the internet and in turn gain the approval of the music companies which would then allow Apple to sell their music online.

Jobs also points out that Apple is not the only company with a DRM that restricts downloaded music to a device. “Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry…”. He states that the agreement Apple was able to make is still unmatched by most digital music services which allows the music to play on an unlimited number of iPods and up to 5 computers.

After a brief lessen in the history and requirements of a running a DRM the letter goes into three possible solutions. The first would be to continue the current course of having separate DRM’s, the second being to open up Apple’s Fairplay DRM technology to all competitors so the downloaded songs could be played on other players, and the third was to get rid of the DRM all together, which would require buy in from the music companies. Jobs had basically called on the big music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI who together distribute over 70% of the world’s music, to consider dropping their requirements of a DRM because according to Jobs “DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.”

The third possible solution created quite a buzz among customers who currently download songs from different music services as well as from the music companies, specifically with EMI who has been talking with online retailers about options with selling its music online with no copy protection.

“In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves.” the open letter stated to point out that most of the music in digital music players today are not protected anyway, and the DRM’s are only protecting a small percent.

Ridding the world of DRM’s is a solution that would easily gain the approval of the general consumer however Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, disagrees with this solution and feels that Apple should simply open up the Fairplay DRM to all. “We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen,” said Bainwol.