And get Engineering to run a Level 3 diagnostic on the Reality Distortion Field

Well, it’s been almost 24 hours since Apple CEO Steve Jobs posted his “Thoughts on Music,” or more accurately, his “Thoughts on How Greedy Music Companies Are Making Things Worse for Everyone” (see “Jobs endorses unchained melodies“), and by the buzz that continues to resonate through the commenting class, he couldn’t have caused more of a stir if he had just descended from Mt. Hamilton carrying two still-smoking iTablets. While his call for an end to Digital Rights Management restrictions on music downloads got high approval ratings, ever skeptical pundits raised questions about Jobs’ motives, timing and contention that Apple is a helpless pawn in the DRM tussle.

Among the points being made:

  • Apple has DRM trouble on the European front, where several countries are threatening to require interoperability among digital music stores and their products (see “Liberté, égalité, interoperabilité“). It’s in the company’s interest to shift the responsibility to the major music companies and try to get the European authorities to turn their guns in that direction. Norway, which has gone so far as to require Apple to change its system by October or face fines and legal action, welcomed Jobs’ sentiments but didn’t buy into his premise. “It is clear that the record industry has some of the responsibility, but that does not relieve Apple of responsibility,” said Torgeir Waterhouse, senior adviser to Norway’s Consumer Council. “Our concern is, of course, that Apple and iTunes Music Store should be addressing the issue of record companies and DRM themselves if it needs to be addressed. It’s iTunes Music Store that’s providing a service to the consumers and therefore has the responsibility.” “[Jobs] also goes on to turn the whole issue on its head by stating iPod owners are not locked into iTunes Music Store,” he added. “The issue our complaint [addresses] is of course the opposite — iTunes Music Store customers are locked to the iPod.”
  • Apple may be coming up on renewal time for its deals with the major labels, and Jobs has never shied away from using the public pulpit in negotiations (see “Ha! Your Shaolin-style greed is no match for my Iron Claw Obstinacy“).
  • Jobs is just trying to get out in front of a parade that’s already under way. There have been recent rumblings that the music industry might already being seeing the light on the futility and frustrations of DRM, and one insider told the Mercury News that one of the major labels is “days away” from opening up a large portion of its catalog in MP3 format.
  • This can be seen as a masterstroke of Apple polishing. As Thomas Hawk wrote, “So rather than be tied down with a DRM image, Jobs penned his anti-DRM missive today largely to only further increase the hipness of the Apple image. And because of that he will sell more iPhones and he’ll sell more Macs. It’s smart. He won’t lose the labels and his popular message resonates with the masses. And this is why Steve Job’s is a marketing genius.”
  • Making a money-and-mouth argument, some are suggesting that Apple set an example by removing its FairPlay restrictions from iTunes music supplied by the independent labels that don’t require DRM.

But whatever Apple’s ulterior motives may be, the Jobs declaration pushes things in the right direction. As Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, said, “Here you have a company that’s done well with DRM … taking a big step away and disowning the whole system. That applies a lot of pressure.”


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  • Michael Collins

    I’m a Linux guy so I haven’t been following too closely, but didn’t one of Apple’s competitors recently release a new edition of their operating system which is essentially built around DRM capabilities? Now I’m not saying that Mr. Jobs would use his open letter to take a shot at that product or anything, you understand.

  • Toby

    The argument for interoperability doesn’t make sense. Consider that I bought The Beatles on a record years ago. Therefore, I shouldn’t have to pay for it again on cassette, CD, or MP3 (if they ever sell this format). Similar to BetaMax tapes playing in a VHS player. It’s like saying that VHS tape should work in DVD players – or at least not require more payment. Each is a new technology with different quality and costs associated. This is how music/video companies make their money – people buy multiple copies of the same stuff to get increasing quality or performance.

  • dermbuilder

    Years ago in the days of analog, we had LP records and cassette, and we freely copied the music on the records to cassette so that we could take them with us and listen to the music in the car, at the beach, whatever, and there was nothing keeping us from doing it. The record companies didn’t make a big fuss, and they did all right. Now all of a sudden they scream and bitch about how we are all stealing their music! GET OVER IT!!! All the record companies are going to do is make the public despise them. When that happens, few people will feel any guilt at all if they actually do steal the music. If that day comes, then the established labels are DOOMED! Wake up and smell the latte, if you treat the public like good people they will return the favor.

  • John, I don’t know why you repeat all this drama about Apple’s “responsibility” and “locked” iPods in your first bulletpoint when nothing you quote refutes Mr. Jobs lucid defense of those two situations. As for your next three bulletpoints, why not just admire Jobs for his marketing smarts? No story there. I found your last bulletpoint interesting, though. Would Jobs and Apple have some reason—technical, or more likely another obligation or term of doing business with the big 4—for not un-DRMing the indie music? You left me hanging! Inquiring minds want to know. I certainly agree with your conclusion. Cheers, Dave

  • Steve Job’s move here once again affirms his position as world’s best marketer, if not world’s best link baiter.

    That isn’t to denigrate his position. I support it. I just marvel at the storm he is able to stir with the flick of his keyboard.

  • Marketing as theatre…I just love watching Jobs the ringmaster.

  • Michael

    In all of the hubub about Europe and iTunes and Apple and DRM 2 things puzzle me. 1) in the case of iTunes users being locked into iPods, it simply isn’t true. Buy a tune, burn to cd, and then rip as an mp3. All inside iTunes and now playable on any player. Not trivial perhaps, but not all that hard either. 2) When I bought an album in 1982 or a cd in 1992 I used to copy them to tape all the time, or lend them to my friends so they could copy etc.. I don’t recall being taught that I was some kind of criminal. I suppose that the only reason the record companies want to restrict our use now is because they can. In the end I don’t really care whether Jobs’ letter is part of a grand scheme to increase Apple profits, or to build his ego, or because it it right. If he move the debate in the direction of no DRM then more power to him!!!!

  • Marie Williams

    Linux guy at the top sounds on the money to me. Jobs is faced with two options: Building in DRM defensive encryption into macs even at the chip to chip level that makes vista such a dog or talk the media companies out of DRM. In the first case, Apple at best may hold their market share, in the second case they pwned microsoft and can only gain handsomely in the ensuing, “our computers do all kinds of things with media that their’s can’t and on a fraction of the processor.” Microsoft laid their money (and future) on the roulette table and are watching the wheel spin and Jobs wants to tear down the casino.

  • dermbuilder : actually the record companies DID make a huge fuss over blank tapes. They even insisted for decades that a tax would be imposed on tapes.

    As for Jobs, I doubt he’s the marketing genius you think, at least not in this case : back in 2003, when interviewed by Rolling Stones, he already had the same position over DRMs :


  • the html filter ate my quote, here it is :

    “When we first went to talk to these record companies — you know, it was a while ago. It took us 18 months. And at first we said: None of this technology that you’re talking about’s gonna work. We have Ph.D.’s here, that know the stuff cold, and we don’t believe it’s possible to protect digital content.”