In an unprecedented move, Steve Jobs has published a statement entitled Thoughts On Music in which he details his views on DRM. Unsurprisingly, he states that iPods can freely play music ripped from CDs and other media before laying responsibility for the increasingly unpopular rights management applied to music sold via the iTunes Music Store fairly and squarely at the feet of the big record companies:
Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.
He then goes on to suggest three future scenarios: continuing on the current course with incompatible players and systems (not at all desirable for users), licensing Apple’s Fairplay DRM to third parties (deemed highly problematic because difficult to control) and thirdly to abolish DRM (is that cheering I hear in the distance?) with the following argument:
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. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.
Given the growing number of European countries threatening to pursue Apple in the courts, Jobs’ statement is timely. Needless to say, the web is awash with the news, it’s excellent PR and it puts Jobs firmly on the side of the consumer.