More on Jobs on DRM

The RIAA released a statement in response to Jobs’ open letter, available at Jon Healey’s Bit Player blog at the LA Times: “Apple’s offer to license Fairplay to other technology companies is a welcome breakthrough and would be a real victory for fans, artists and labels. There have been many services seeking a license to the Apple DRM. This would enable the interoperability that we have been urging for a very long time.”
Is this really the best of Jobs’ three scenarios for copyright owners? If Apple did choose to license to third parties, Apple’s proprietary DRM scheme would be the underpinning of the entire digital music industry. And while there would be competitors to the iTunes/iPod hegemony, Apple would be the 500 lb gorilla in the room. Its proprietary format would govern the way that music is used. Perhaps the record labels would prefer to have to deal with using antitrust law to reign in Apple’s dominance in the music distribution ecosystem, but that seems like the labels would be letting too much of that distribution ecosystem get to far out of their control.
It shows how confident Apple is in its product that the company is willing– if not enthusiastic– to prefer open competition to licensing its own proprietary protection scheme.
John Markoff, The New York Times, Jobs Calls for End to Music Copy Protection: “The Universal Music Group, the Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment declined to comment. But several industry executives said they viewed Mr. Jobs’s comments as an effort to deflect blame from Apple and onto the record companies for the incompatibility of various digital music devices and services.”
The Economist: Music wants to be free: “Mr Jobs’s argument, in short, is transparently self-serving. It also happens to be right.”
John Gruber, Daring Fireball: Reading Between the Lines of Steve Jobs’s ‘Thoughts on Music’: “Interoperability is a good idea. It is simply fair that you should be able to play the music you’ve downloaded and paid for on any brand of music player. “Open up FairPlay” sounds nice, but, as Jobs makes clear, makes little practical sense. If you really want interoperability, then what you want is no DRM, not “open” DRM.”
As Gruber, and others, have noted, there are many copyright owners– independent labels and artists, mainly– who are willing to distribute their recordings in DRM-free formats. In fact, many of these recordings are distributed DRM-free already. Unless the contracts with the Big Four prohibits Apple from distributing any non-protected content from the same store, Apple could distribute independent music without any DRM.
Previously: Apple, DRM and Digital Distribution