Jobs On Music and DRM

Jobs On Music and DRM

So Steve Jobs has posted his thoughts on music which, as Gruber at Daring Fireball points out, is really his thoughts on DRM. Gruber’s analysis is good, but I prefer Cory’s at Boing Boing. It’s less forgiving.

In support of his argument against licensing FairPlay, Jobs writes:

However, a key provision of our agreements with the music companies is that if our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store.

Gruber supports this argument by asking:

How could Apple assume responsible (sic) for firmware updates for devices made by other companies?

And, of course, the answer is obvious. Rather than expecting Apple to police the world, you simply place the blame where it belongs. If a third-party company’s firmware update breaks DRM, Apple could simply pull that company’s FairPlay license until the the problem is fixed. Once that company’s customers start screaming that they can’t access the iTunes store and none of their protected files will play, you can be sure the company will fix the problem ASAP. The “key provision” in any agreement is always negotiable and Apple, as the world’s fourth largest music [s]distributor[/s] retailer, certainly has the necessary muscle to negotiate this point so that blame can be properly assigned.

And does anyone really believe that Sony is going to pull it’s entire catalog from iTunes simply because the DRM has been cracked on a third-party player?

For the most part, Jobs’ arguments ring hollow to me. As both Gruber and Cory point out, there are numerous labels currently distributed from iTunes which have requested that the music not be wrapped in DRM, but Apple hasn’t done it. From Apple’s viewpoint, DRM is an all-or-nothing proposition, meaning that until the entire world capitulates, everything gets wrapped in DRM. Corey points to DVD Jon’s article which states there is a workable solution. If this is true, then why hasn’t Apple honored the requests of those who don’t want their property wrapped in DRM? This, in my opinion, is the weak link in Jobs’ entire argument. If Apple truly desires a DRM-free world, it seems they would limit DRM to only the companies which request it. I believe it’s called practicing what you preach.

All said, I don’t think there’s anything new in Jobs’ essay. We already knew DRM was mandated by the record labels. We already knew Apple didn’t want to license DRM. And as to Apple being for or against dropping DRM “in a heartbeat,” the proof is in the pudding. Until Apple starts walking the walk, it’s all just talk.

On an unrelated note, Gruber nails Jason Reindorp:

The way Reindorp whiplashes right from calling Jobs “irresponsible, or at the very least naive” to calling him a bandwagon-jumper two sentences later – that actually makes total sense to me. He pretty much goes through all five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – in just two paragraphs.

I laughed out loud when I first read that and it still makes me smile.