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.

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