Last month I expended what were probably too many words in a discussion on a mailing list, making the point that Apple inherently values DRM-crippled music. How else to explain the fact the iTunes store attaches DRM to music even when the artists don’t want it there? Buy 100 songs from iTMS, I argued, and you’ve invested $100 in music that can’t be played anywhere but in iTunes or on the iPod. If Sony comes out with an iPod killer next month, you’d be reluctant to switch because you wouldn’t be able to take your purchased music with you. DRM is valuable to Apple, Sony, and Microsoft (who all exercise the same kind of data lock-in) even when there’s no direct profit in it, consumer convenience be damned.
Steve Jobs’ recent open letter to the music industry knocks a neat hole in my argument, making the point that, based on their data, 97% of music on all iPods is not protected, and that 3% is hardly sufficient incentive to prevent users from switching. Hmmm… Good point, but then why is some music available at eMusic (my favorite online music store by far) without DRM while the exact same music is sold as cripple-ware at iTMS?
Not sure what to think, but I appreciate that Steve is calling for an end to DRM. His letter is extremely cogent (one wonders how many lawyers’ hands the letter passed through before publication), and provides a great primer on the opposing forces with which Apple and other music providers find themselves wrestling. Of course, the fact that much of Europe is threatening to follow in Norway‘s footsteps in making the iPod (or rather the breakdown of consumer choice its DRM represents) illegal is likely a contributing factor.