Apple’s Steve Jobs pens ‘Thoughts on Music’; Calls for DRM-free world | iLounge News


Apple’s Steve Jobs pens ‘Thoughts on Music’; Calls for DRM-free world

In a rare move, Apple CEO Steve Jobs as written an open letter on Apple’s digital rights management (DRM) system used on the iPod and iTunes. In the letter, Jobs explains why Apple has implemented its FairPlay DRM technology, and explores three alternatives for the future—continue the current DRM scheme, license FairPlay or abolish DRM entirely. Jobs’ letter is in response to mounting pressure from European countries which say Apple is forcing limits on consumers. Jobs says that persuading the major record companies to allow iTunes and other stores to sell music DRM-free is the right move. He says Apple would embrace selling this open music “in a heartbeat.” A portion of the letter is below, but clicking through to read the entire letter is highly recommended.

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music. [...]

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries.  Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.  For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard.  The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company.  EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company.  Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace.  Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

Related Stories



What if they made DRM free files that had the the users real name, ip address burned somehow into the file so the officials could trace the uploader and discourage them from sharing?

Posted by Doc Evils on February 6, 2007 at 3:27 PM (CST)


Ha! Suck it, Europe! Apple saying essentially that they don’t want DRM any more than the public does. I love it.

Posted by Multimoog on February 6, 2007 at 3:28 PM (CST)



Posted by ort on February 6, 2007 at 3:40 PM (CST)


A major change is about to occur.  My hypothesis is the Beatles entire catalogue of songs will be published on the iTunes store DRM free.


Posted by George on February 6, 2007 at 3:43 PM (CST)


Dude, I live in Europe. If any of you agree with this, let’s get out there and start to lobby the music industry, and the legislators that are picking on Apple.

I’m serious! Let’s get out there and start an organised, relentless campaign!


Posted by nerdbrain on February 6, 2007 at 3:46 PM (CST)


awesome- telling music companies to get their heads out of their asses.  I’ll never forget the Grammys when they set up “real teenagers” with “real computers” to download “real music” during the show and see how many songs they could get for free in the allotted time.  What a joke.  The industry is built not on what sells now, but on what sells next.  Since the mid-eighties, big music has taken a product based approach that puts aesthetic before quality and downloading shatters the ability to further that goal.  DRM free music would be the nail in the coffin of the industries strangle-hold on crap.  John Lennon said that he felt like songs were there to be picked out of the air, and not for anybody to control, could he have even imagined this?

Posted by Charlie on February 6, 2007 at 3:55 PM (CST)


Mr. Jobs math is horribly flawed.  It doesn’t take into account multiple iPods in the same household and those iPods that die for one reason or another.  Of the 90 Million iPods sold over the last 5+ years you would need to know how many are still actively being used and how many are under one iTunes licence.  When an iPod dies the music doesn’t and many people have a combination of iPods standard/nano/shuffle, etc.  This could easily multiply his 3% by 4-5 times.  I agress with Mr. Jobs it may be relatively small %. It’s no ware near 3% but more like 15%.

Posted by Scott on February 6, 2007 at 4:03 PM (CST)


As for addressing the DRM issues expressed by those European nations on the interoperability of FairPlay files…well, the licensing of FairPlay would do pretty much the same thing, without having to wait for and rely on the stubborn and “greeding” music companies to agree to eliminating DRM.

Of course, so would DRM-free MP3 files do the same, like the ones several of the labels are reportedly considering. That of course begs the question: with MP3s, what label would then really need for Apple and iTMS to peddle their music?

Noble thought expressed by Jobs, and it’s one possible solution for the European dilemma (I do like how it appears to dump fault on the record companies), but it certainly doesn’t address what the music labels REALLY want: the control of pricing.

Posted by flatline response on February 6, 2007 at 4:16 PM (CST)


interesting article.  I’m NOT an i-pod carrying music purist.  In fact, I get most of my music from free radio (that’s a whole other vent!).  So tha either makes me totally inqualified to have an opinion - or it makes me unbiased.  Flip a quawtah.  The idea of packaging online music in a protected format (by license) while at the same time selling music on CD in an UNprotected format seems simply ludicrous.  In any other retail dynamic this type of marketing would be vilified as unfair trade practise.

I can understand the ‘big 4’ making an attempt to protect their interests; but it is high time they admit that the DRM experiment hasnt worked. 
Perhaps the Music Giants could license playlists to be pre-loaded on new music Players?  Now THAT’S a new concept, eh?  I’m curious to see if music player sales will follow a model that caters to the non-techie music fan.  I dont want to commit my free time to music searching - I just wanna listen to tunes I can rock out to !

Posted by steve on February 6, 2007 at 4:32 PM (CST)


My question would be is the price going to stay the same?

Posted by Mike on February 6, 2007 at 4:37 PM (CST)


DRM is pretty much the only thing keeping me from using the iTunes store. I’d be glad to use it if the DRM restrictions were removed, then I’d be confident that anything I buy off the store will work on any AAC-supporting product, now or in the future.  I can’t play iTunes music in WinAmp but I could if the DRM was gone.

Posted by phennphawcks on February 6, 2007 at 4:48 PM (CST)


There are some interesting points in Steves thoughts. But is he also able to explain why indie-label music which is free at emusic is also crippeled by DRM in the itunes store?

Posted by markymac on February 6, 2007 at 4:57 PM (CST)


mea culpa, Markymac.  Most of what I know about the music biz came from watching Clive Davis on the Donny Duetsch show.

I’d guess that I-Tunes had to put ALL music in the DRM format - irrespective of original issues such as indy music - to appease the Big 4.  My idea that a percentage of Players could be pre-loaded , maybe 30% capacity, with a playlist from licensed producers could be an equitable trade for the licensing fees lost immediately upon going to a DRM-free music store format.  I realize ‘fair’ is a subjective term.  Artists and Labels that want to ensure a royalty need to up their game when it comes to CD encryption, and not put it off on the music players and users.  How many of us owned dual-tape decks to copy our faves long b4 the digital age? I know I did!

Posted by steve on February 6, 2007 at 5:05 PM (CST)


Some online stores in France already started selling free DRM music a few weeks ago, instead of selling DRM format songs:

just go to and you will see you can now buy mp3 songs for 0.99 euros each.

Unfortunately, the French iTunes store is still selling DRM format songs… So, can Apple explain how some music stores got the permission to sell free DRM songs and how iTunes didn’t ?!

Posted by spy-c on February 6, 2007 at 5:27 PM (CST)


With the indie lables not requiring DRM, but its implemented in itunes is because of the all or none.  Eith everything is DRM or none of it. 
Thus the indie lables on itunes are DRM

Posted by don711 on February 6, 2007 at 6:02 PM (CST)


I was this close to saying you were not right spy-c, but to my amazement you actualy are :)
I took me a moment to read through the French FAQ and figuring it all out but they are DRM-free.
FNAC is one of the biggest (apart from Virgin) music multimedia etc. stores in France which is probably why music labels take it easy with them.
I like the iTMS and ease of use, but I do not (as many) like the 128kbps limit, which is why I sometimes turn to websites offering higher quality reproduction.
What really interests me is whether files like these (from FNAC) bare any sort of watermark that enables you to descern a “bought” file from an illegit one?


Posted by Jarrek on February 6, 2007 at 6:07 PM (CST)


I agree wholeheartedly with Jobs’ argument, but I also agree with scott in that Jobs’ maths demonstrating that an average of only 3% of music on an ipod comes from the iTunes Store is incredibly dodgy.

Using myself as an example, there have been 4 iPods in my household which have all played music from my iTunes Store account. One of these ipods no longer functions, as I suspect a large percentage of all ipods purchased since 2001 don’t. I have purchased 389 songs from the itunes store, making up just under 11% of my 3357 song library. I have a 20GB iPod and a 30GB iPod, neither of which are full, so that’s 11% on two iPods. My sister’s iPod, which is a mini, is full with about 1000 songs, and i think about 200 of them came from the iTunes Store, making up 20% of her iPod’s content.

Using Jobs’ maths, my 389 songs would be divided evenly between 4 iPods purchased, leaving 97 songs per iPod, which would make up, hey presto, just under 3% of my primary iPod’s contents, or just under 10% of my sister’s iPod’s contents. We can therefore say that in my little sample, Jobs’ 3% equates to between 10 and 20% in the real world, when we account for purchased ipods that are no longer used, and multiple ipods that play music form the one iTunes store account.

It’s silly for Jobs to do this, because he doesn’t really need it to illustrate his point, but it will be easily and deservedly criticised by those who don’t like his idea.

Posted by Nuke666 on February 6, 2007 at 8:19 PM (CST)


Seems to me that the 3% is probably high, actually. Think about it. A lot of you are saying that you have iTunes songs that you stored on more than one iPod. Well, those songs only count once, not two or three times depending on which iPods they happen to live on. One download = one song, even if you copy it to several iPods.

Personally, I think one of the earlier posters has it right. This is the opening salvo in a push to eliminate DRM altogether from iTMS. We know that Apple Corps. has been looking for a “new way to distribute digital files” and that they’ve held themselves out of the market because they didn’t like any of the existing solutions. They wouldn’t just jump on board with iTMS simply because they settled their branding dispute. They’re going to want to make a splash when they hit InterTube. Therefore it makes sense that they’d buck the trend and do something innovative with their iTMS debut. Apple Inc. and Apple Corps. want to make the Beatles catalogue something special. What better way than to offer the songs free of DRM?

Posted by Surf Monkey on February 6, 2007 at 8:29 PM (CST)


“I like the iTMS and ease of use, but I do not (as many) like the 128kbps limit, which is why I sometimes turn to websites offering higher quality reproduction. “

I couldn’t agree more. Why iTMS doesn’t offer Apple Lossless files is beyond me. 128kbps AACs sound like crap. That’s why I don’t use iTMS. I want the best quality sound I can get. 128kbps anything is not worth my time or money.

Posted by Surf Monkey on February 6, 2007 at 8:31 PM (CST)


Surf Monkey, please see my above post as to why one song purchased and stored on multiple iPods makes for a higher, not lower, percentage of iTunes DRM music per iPod.

Posted by Nuke666 on February 6, 2007 at 8:33 PM (CST)

Subscribe to iLounge Weekly

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter

iLounge is an independent resource for all things iPod, iPhone, iPad, and beyond.
iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, Mac, and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc.
iLounge is © 2001 - 2018 iLounge, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy