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Steve Jobs is Right

Recently Steve Jobs, head of Apple, publicly came out against DRM (Digital Right Management). DRM, for those who don’t know, is the software that recording companies put on legally downloaded music so that it cannot be shared. It’s why you can’t play songs downloaded via I-tunes on your Zune or use switch all those songs from Rhapsody to your new I-pod.

Steve Jobs basically says don’t blame Apple for DRM, it’s the record companies that are making us put DRM on all our downloaded songs. Apple would rather make songs available DRM-free. Now of course Apple could probably do more to change the record company’s behavior regarding DRM but in the end he’s right. DRM has got to go.

When I buy a CD (which I still do too much of), I can play it on my main stereo, my computer, a boombox, my car, my kids can play it on their boomboxes. I can bring it to my neighbor and play it and if I forget it at his house, he can play it without me around. When I get sick of the CD, I can sell it to Cheapo records and someone else can then buy it and play it on their stereo equipment. However, when you legally download a song this flexibility is not available. Depending on what program you are using, downloaded song are restricted to what computer it can be played on, the number of times it can be played, subscriptions have to be maintained in order to continue to listen to a song, and of course you can’t change .mp3 players because the song will only play on certain players. And the record companies wonder why millions of songs are downloaded illegally every year?

Now I don’t envy the recording industry. It is very simple to illegally download a song onto your computer. An eight-year-old with moderate computer skills could probably do it. I understand their concern about rights infringements and paying artists for their songs. However the current system with DRM does not work and only encourages people to illegally download music. A simple, DRM-free, legal means to download music is needed that allows anyone who downloads a song to have the same listening flexibility as someone who purchases a CD. Until the recording industry recognizes this fact, wholesale illegal downloading of music will continue.

What do you think?


I guess I'm an anti-DRM sympathizer at heart, but honestly, I think wholesale illegal downloading will continue regardless. It's easy for Jobs to advocate the abolishment of DRM -- he makes his money on the hardware. If I'm the record company, though, I'd want to continue preventing casual piracy as much as possible (which they've actually done pretty well so far, if my interactions with computer-illiterate folks are any indication).

I don't think dumping DRM would hurt the record industry, but I don't see the move helping them either. There are still some minor speedbumps (for most folks) to purchase a CD, convert it to digital format, and then distribute it, and it's not crazy to want some similar mechanism in place for purchased downloaded songs.

As usual, pretty insightful comments spycake. I don't believe no DRM will completely stop illegal downloading of music but it sure would make legal downloading more desirable and at this point in time, the recording industry needs all the help it can get. With DRM it is embracing strategies that foster illegal downloads.

You make some good points. With no DRM and more online music stores, I could see the prices becoming so cheap as to render piracy less attractive.

Of course, record companies would still need to keep pressure on limiting the ease/convenience of KaZaa and other filesharing services. And these record companies simply see DRM as another prong in that strategy. It will take some convincing for them to separate the two and radically change their business model as noted above.

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