Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Wednesday, February 07, 2007
A Modest Proposal
Posted by neros_fiddle at 11:55 AM
Yes, I'm still alive. I'm not sure what I want to do with this blog at the moment, since ranting about political issues seems to be becoming less therapeutic and more depressing. Perhaps that means I'm becoming saner. So for all two of you who might be reading this, the Fiddle isn't broken, just off for retuning.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to share this post on Apple's site from Steve Jobs. Longtime readers (all two of you) of the Fiddle know that DRM is one of my hobbyhorses, and Jobs has a refreshing straightforward and pragmatic view on this issue.

It seems like mere common sense, and does have ulterior motives (Apple is currently facing legislative headaches in several European countries over the proprietary DRM in the iTunes store, plus another angle I'll get to in a minute), but it has the advantage of being largely correct.

If I buy a CD, I can play it at home, on my PC, on my laptop, in my car, or on a Discman. Guaranteed. I can rip the songs into an open digital format and store/play them on any portable music player and any cell phones and PDAs that support playing music files. Guaranteed. If the record label goes out of business, the music will still play. If I buy a new CD player or a new portable player, the music will still play. Guaranteed.

Buying a song from the iTunes store, or the Zune store, or any other DRM-encrypted online source, and I have some or none of these guarantees. (Unless the DRM allows me to burn the songs to a CD, in which case the end result is a CD that costs about the same as a pressed CD but with inferior sound quality.) Clearly, taking away DRM is a huge plus for the consumer (and the reason why I only buy music online at emusic, which does not use DRM).

As Jobs points out, it's also a huge plus for him and other online music vendors, as it would get them out of the DRM business, which is expensive, high-risk, and viewed with either apathy or contempt by the customer.

As Jobs also points out, it's a zero-sum proposition for the labels, since DRM-free downloads pose no greater risk of piracy than the CDs that already make up the bulk of the labels' business.

Jobs being Jobs, though, there is a sneaky aspect to this beyond the legal hassles he's looking to circumvent. DRM-free downloads wouldn't work with the "all you can eat" subscription model of many of his competitors (where you can download all the songs you want for a monthly fee, and they stop playing when you stop paying the fee or the technology ceases being supported). It would, of course, have no effect on iTunes' pay-per-song model. So if the labels, in some fantasy universe where decisions are made based on logic, agree to take off DRM, the subscription sites would still have to use it to enforce their terms of service. And iTunes would have a huge competitive advantage.

Tricksy.

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