Thoughts on “Thoughts on Music”

by Michael Alderete on 2/8/2007 · 5 comments

On Tuesday, in an open letter Thoughts on Music, Steve Jobs responded (accidentally ;-) to my prior post calling on Apple to license FairPlay to other device makers. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, as all the best propaganda is, covering a lot of ground concisely and persuasively. Other people have analysed Thoughts on Music in more detail than I care to; I’ll confine myself to three points.

I agree with everything he wrote

That doesn’t change my conclusion that I won’t buy any more content from the iTunes Store until I can play it on my Sonos and TiVo systems. I don’t care if the source of the issue is Apple or the record companies, I only care that I can’t play it on devices I own and enjoy using.

If Steve is serious about offering non-DRM-wrapped content on the iTunes Store, there should be non-DRM-wrapped content on the iTunes Store

There are non-big four labels ready to do away with DRM yesterday, including those behind artists like Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, and Avril Lavigne. Steve’s letter is currently undermined by the lack of any unprotected content on the iTunes Store. If he’s serious, that should change. That would put additional pressure on the big four labels to think about dropping DRM, as well as reduce pressure from the groups that are currently after Apple to open up FairPlay, redirecting it at the same big four. That seems like such a big win for Apple, I expect it to be their next move in this particular game.

The “big four” have to change something

The heart of Steve’s argument goes basically like this: (a) All DRM systems rely on secrets. (b) Once the secrets are known, it is possible, common, inevitable that the DRM will be broken, worldwide. ( c) If the DRM is broken, Apple is required by contract to rapidly fix it, or lose the ability to sell the majority of the music in the iTunes Store. (d) Licensing FairPlay means more people have the FairPlay secrets, which increases the risk of the secrets escaping. (e) The increase in risk is not acceptable, which is why Apple won’t license FairPlay.

That’s a pretty strong argument. It’s hard to suggest that Apple should significantly increase their business risk to assist their competitors, by licensing Apple technology to let those competitors improve their products. Yeah, it would be good for customers too, but the current situation, as Steve points out, only causes problems for 3% of people’s content. It’s a trade-off, and it’s reasonable for Apple to come down on the side of Apple.

The big four record companies are already suggesting that Apple is wrong and should work to license FairPlay. Fine. All they need to do is take ( c) above out of the equation. That’s something totally under their control, and if they are serious about wanting to see interoperability, instead of dropping DRM entirely as Steve suggests, then they need to put their lawyers were their mouthpieces are.

As Roman Strauss said in Dead Again, I think this is all very far from over.

goldcoaster February 25, 2007 at 6:08 pm

I would rather Jobs put some effort into making a Vista compatible version of iTunes. Still nothing after Release to manufacturer was back in November! Apple says in a few weeks but that was back in January, a month later still nothing.

Alderete March 3, 2007 at 4:21 pm

@goldcoaster: Well, RTM might have been back in November, but the software has only really been available to customers since the end of January. It takes time to certify software on a new operating system. And realistically, Apple is probably working harder on certifying the next version of iTunes (rumored to be coming in a month or two), rather than trying to patch a (to them) old version of iTunes.

So, I recommend patience. It’ll all work out in the end. :-)

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