In a direct appeal to consumers who feel shackled by the digital-rights management (DRM) copyright protections that come with each song bought from the iTunes Store, Apple CEO Steve Jobs calls for an end to digital DRMs. But he points out that it is up to the music companies that license their music to Apple to lift the current restrictions. In a letter on Apple's Website titled "Thoughts on Music," Jobs argues:
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. 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.
Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. . . . 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.
. . . So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music.
There is no question that the restrictions imposed by DRM software cripple the digital music experience because you can do less with your digital music than you can with the same songs bought on a CD. For instance, you can play it on as many devices as you like, and anywhere you like. Perhaps iTunes is getting to that point of critical mass where consumers are starting to complain. DRM is something that was conceived by lawyers, not by people who love to make great products for consumers. While he is not the first to suggest this move (Amazon is thinking about it and so is at least one record label), Jobs is right. It's time to kill the DRM.
But why the public appeal? I can only speculate that Jobs has tried this argument out on the record companies, only for it to fall on deaf ears. So now Jobs is saying, in effect, "I know the DRM weakens the iTunes experience. But don't blame me. Blame the record companies."
Don't worry Mr. Jobs. We already do.