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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Apple tells Music industry to keep Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology away

Apple Computer CEO, Steve Jobs, has opened a can of worms with his suggestion that record labels do away with their need for online music to be wrapped in Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.

Meanwhile, record labels; Universal Music Group, EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group, have always maintained, and continue to maintain that DRM is a critical requirement for keeping rampant piracy at bay.

Jobs has published an open letter, "Thoughts on Music" on the Apple Web site, wherein he talks about Apple's perspective on digital music distribution, and the role of DRM.

He writes, "Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat."

Jobs goes on to say that with 90 percent of total yearly music sales comprising CDs that are essentially DRM-free, anyone in possession of a music CD can easily rip the content to MP3, WMA, AAC, or any other digital format, free of DRM restrictions.

As such, Jobs questions whether DRM is actually required at all, when digital distribution remains such a miniscule portion of total music sales.

In his letter, Jobs also discusses two other possibilities: one, of the industry continuing with its current DRM systems; the other, of Apple licensing its proprietary DRM technology, 'FairPlay' to competitors to achieve interoperability. However, he promptly rejects the second possibility, sounding-off concern over possible compromise of the 'FairPlay' system.

Of course, Jobs' suggestion is to be seen in the light of the recent fracas over DRM in Norway, where Apple has been literally given an ultimatum to either open-up its closed iTMS-iPod ecosystem, or cease operations within the country.

As such, the people of Norway are happy to see Jobs take on the responsibility that comes from being the head of a company that is considered a pioneer in the digital music space.

However, the murmur is getting louder that Jobs seems to be missing the wood for the trees in urging record labels to abandon DRM, when it is Apple themselves who should be leading by example.