Steve Jobs has posted an open letter to the music industry in which he calls for an end to anti-piracy controls on digital music sold online:
Apple chief executive Steve Jobs yesterday called on record companies to let online music stores sell digital music files without anti-piracy controls, an idea that some analysts say has merit.
“This is clearly the best alternative for customers and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat,” Jobs wrote in a column titled “Thoughts on Music,” which was posted on Apple’s Web site yesterday.
Critics have complained that digital rights management, or DRM, software built into tracks sold on the company’s iTunes music store locks users into Apple’s iPod. Such competitors as Real Networks, as well as some European countries, have called on Apple to share its software code or otherwise open its protected music file format. Doing so would allow devices other than iPods to play music downloaded from iTunes and would allow music purchased elsewhere on the Internet to be played on iPods.
But Jobs wrote that Apple sells music solely for the iPod because that’s what the music industry insisted on when he was negotiating deals years ago — even though “DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.”
“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,” Jobs wrote.
The problem, he said, is “there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music.”
As Jobs points out, most music is sold without any piracy controls at all, and the music industry doesn’t seem to suffer:
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.
So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.
Unless, of course, you’re short-sighted record company executive who looks at people downloading digital music and sees nothing but a bunch of theives.