Thoughts on “Thoughts on Music”

Clearly designed as an official response to European governmental agencies that have recently threatened to force Apple to open up the copy protection system shared by the iPod and iTunes, Apple CEO Steve Jobs today published “Thoughts on Music,” an essay on Apple’s views of digital rights management (DRM), its sales of music, and its record label partners. Earlier today, I started to work on a detailed analytical look at the essay, but re-considered halfway through; as interesting as Thoughts on Music initially appears to be, there are only three modestly noteworthy points of interest to iPod users:

(1) According to Apple, the FairPlay DRM system was developed to satisfy the music industry, and Apple says that it’s willing to sell music without DRM – and guarantee that every iPod ever made will play it – if the four major recording labels agree that it’s no longer necessary.

(2) Over 90% of music sold in 2006 – virtually everything sold outside of the iTunes Store – was sold without DRM, in CD format, and that’s not likely to change.

and (3) Despite the prospect of licensing fees and/or forced governmental action, Apple is opposed to opening FairPlay to its competitors on the grounds that doing so will compromise FairPlay’s security. In other words, it will sell FairPlay music without licensing it, or sell DRM-free music, but that’s it.

Ultimately, the reason I opted to stop working on the full analysis was this: the essay ultimately comes across as more of a finger-pointing exercise than anything else, concluding by telling European governments to turn their attention to (European) record companies instead of Apple. The company’s proposal of two equally unpleasant alternatives – Apple DRM or no DRM – makes some rhetorical sense, but obviously doesn’t encompass all of the potential solutions out there, and as neither Apple option will satisfy sabre-rattlers, it won’t stop those trying to force FairPlay licensing upon the company. Additionally, even though the essay includes some questionable assumptions, such as the ones that only 3% of an iPod user’s library consists of iTunes DRM’ed music, and that 3% would be too small of a percentage to lock consumers into remaining iPod and iTunes customers, my guess is that Apple’s intended audience will find them more self-serving than convincing. Readers, what do you think?

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