[intro]Steve Jobs, the man behind the world's largest download store, has said digital rights management isn't working. Clap your hands say yeah, music fans.[/intro]
Apple's iTunes store is massively successful, but it's also run into a lot of criticism of late - from European governments, the public and me - for restrictive practices. I love the store, but I hate the fact that the music I buy there is only compatible with the iPod. I have plenty of other MP3 players to test out to.
Well, in an unprecedented step, Apple honcho Steve Jobs has posted an essay on the company's website calling on the major labels to dump digital rights management (DRM) protection on music tracks. He says Apple's research shows that 97% of music on people's iPods is unprotected, which means DRM is pointless. I couldn't agree more, and any true fan of music will be on the side of Mr Jobs.
Why has he done this now? A cynic would say it's both to head off law suits, and to make himself look like the good guy. Indeed, Jobs's claim that Apple hasn't licensed its iPod-friendly Fairplay DRM to other sites because it would be hacked more often isn't totally convincing. But rumour has it that the original iPod and iTunes concept was totally unencumbered by DRM - Jobs was forced into accepting it by the four major labels.
Despite being so successful - or perhaps because of it - the majors don't have a great relationship with Apple. They don't like iTunes' one-price-fits-all cost, and they don't like the marketing power of the service. Jobs's statement will further twist the knife, and could severly strain relations between Apple and the majors. But Jobs knows they don't have much alternative than to keep pumping songs out using iTunes.
How will they respond? Industry insiders tell me that the majors are already experimenting with DRM-free music. We're unlikely to see a rapid shift, but over the next couple of years we could move towards an open, copy protection-free market. Until then, I'm going to keep buying DRM-free indie music from Bleep.com and eMusic, and only buy the occasional major label track from iTunes. If the change comes I, and many others, will start buying more major label music. Bring it on.