Will your music be set free? Will you be able to share your songs from iTunes, move them from machine to machine with impunity? Steve Jobs claims “he’d like nothing more.”
Yes, some of you may have read this note from Steve Jobs about the current and possible futures of digital rights management (DRM) in the music industry. For those, like me, who don’t dabble in acronyms like DRM on a regular basis, this basically refers to how online resellers like iTunes encode their music so that a) you are limited to copying it 5 times; and b) you can only play it on their proprietary system (like an iPod – ever tried playing a song from iTunes on something else… it won’t work).
Taken on its own Jobs’ note makes it look like he’s taking on the music industry unprompted, fighting for the little guy – the consumer (that’s me and you!). The truth is a little more complicated. Even this Herald Tribune piece, which has all the pieces to the puzzle, reverses cause and effect and buries the important parts at the back of the piece. The important fact is that Norway’s consumer ombudsman, Bjoern Erik Thon, told Reuters that Apple “must make iTunes music compatible with other players than the iPod by the end of September, or we will take them to court.”
Apparently, several European countries are proposing similar rulings. What makes this interesting (and my understanding of EU law could be flawed here – so please send me clarifications) are the EU’s rules around mutual recognition. Consequently, a ruling that found Apple violating consumers rights in one EU country could be quickly adopted across all the member states. If that happened, the theoretical future scenarios Jobs mentions in his memo would very quickly become the here and now options he would have to implement in a manner of weeks.
I have little doubt that Jobs would prefer to maintain the status quo. He’s got the dominant online music vendor that forces people to use his proprietary hardware. Do you really think he wants to give up this virtual monopoly? No way. Let’s be clear, this memo is the opening salvo in an effort to renegotiate iTunes agreement with the record labels in case the European regulatory environment changes (which is beginning to look very possible). Like any savvy negotiator he’d prefer to negotiate today, when he’s got options, as opposed to 7 months from now, when he’s got a gun to his head and the music labels are threatening to pull the plug unless he shares Apple’s proprietary licensing system – FairPlay – with everyone. Such an agreement would allow anyone to sell music that can play on an iPod effectively destroying his monopoly distribution arrangement.
Jobs isn’t a champion of the little guy – he just likes to look like he is. The change of heart outlined in this memo was not prompted by his concern for consumers but out of concern for the future of iTunes.
Thank you Nicolas T. for the HT link and the prompting email.
[tags]itunes, steve jobs, copyright, copyright law, music, negotiation, apple, ipod, DRM[/tags]