Steve Responds to Norway

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.

Music: Kalama’s Quartet :: Kawika/Liliu E

6 Replies to “Steve Responds to Norway”

  1. I was also interested that Steve only talked about “‘open’, licensable codecs.”

    Gee, Steve. If this is all about openness and making things easier for the consumer, how about adding Ogg Vorbis support to the iPod? How about Theora? Hom about supporting freedom at the codec level?

    How about removing DRM from the Disney and Pixar movies the ITMS distributes?

    It’s nice to see SJ calling for the end of DRM, but I somehow think he was only talking to rights owners outside of his own profit stream.

    Pot, kettle …

  2. Well, DRM is a big deal for all users, while codec choice is something very few users are even aware of. MP3 and AAC are not 100% open, but for practical intents and purposes, they’re close (that is, open source developers can deliver products with MP3 encode/decode capabilities by using LAME, etc.) Not ideal, but not terrible either.

    codec choice really is a totally separate discussion from the DRM discussion. Also, as far as I know, Ogg still doesn’t offer the same quality per bitrate that AAC does (and MP3 never has). I would be fine with them sticking with non-DRM’d AAC.

    What I’d love would be to see A) Dropping DRM and B) offering an option for higher bitrates.

    And the question of DRM and video is also a separate one, though intrinsically linked. Small steps.

  3. Not sure why you linked to Finland there. The linked article basically just says they made ripping copy-protected CDs illegal. Given that, according to the article, only 1 percent of CDs are copy-protected, I don’t see how this qualifies as making the iPod illegal.

  4. Alistair, you’re right – that was a bad link. On closer look, Finland has not yet declared the iPod illegal, but both Sweden and and Finland have “backed Norway’s stance, but have yet to take action.” So I was a bit off there. Thanks for the correction.

  5. Even the MSNBC article about Norway’s iTunes issues isn’t quite clear. Their Consumer Ombudsman has decided that they are breaking the Marketing Control Act, but if I understand it correctly, right now they are giving Apple until September to rectify the problems or they’ll take them to court over it.


  6. I can’t imagine how Apple could “rectify” the problem for just one country – and if a number of EU countries are supporting Norway or following suit, no wonder Apple is getting sweaty palms about DRM.

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