Well, not really. But today the CEO of Apple posted an open letter (sort of like a blog post, eh?) to the music industry discussing the state of Digital Rights Management (DRM) as it relates to digital music. The piece titled, “Thoughts on Music” caught off guard when my Deputy CIO sent it around today — there wasn’t any commentary attached, just a simple pointer to the fact that it had occurred. Let me tell you that I feel as though I have been burned by the DRM bug since the creation of the iTunes Music Store … since it has launched I have purchased hundreds of tracks from the store and dozens of books — not the average 22 Steve says people who own iPods purchase. While I understood at the time that the tightly wrapped files I was paying for didn’t really belong to me. You see, DRM makes me feel like I am a criminal. The DRM assumes the worst and it makes me angry now that new devices are on the scene that I would like to use in my digital life. Remember our Macs were intended to be the “hub to our digital life.” BTW, I’m not just talking about portable devices here — this is my music.
The mere fact that Steve was able to convince the labels that selling their music in the digital space was a good thing was huge back in the day. Since then, as we all know the Store has served over two billion orders. Now Steve is turning his attnetion towards opening the flood gates even further … or is he? I know Apple has been under pressure to do something about the DRM they use to protect music — especially in Europe. In all fairness, that was the only way the labels were going to let it happen at all … but how much longer should we (the consumers) and the vendors (Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Napster, etc) play the labels’ game? I guess I can understand the labels’ perspective, but the time has come to think different about the issue. The thing to keep in mind here is that you and I can go to a brick and morter store like Target and buy a CD that has no DRM at all … it makes less and less sense as you begin to really think about it.
Sure someone feels safer with the wrapped files, but it is a real pain for those of us who actually purchase the music. If I wanted to switch devices — or play one of my iTunes songs on my Treo, or Wii, or any other device in the known world other than my iPod I am out of luck. That doesn’t sound too much like that music belongs to me. Steve proposes three approaches … we can do nothing and live with multiple DRM solutions, Apple could license their own DRM solution (which isn’t going to happen), or the labels could come to the realization that this whole mess is really just a mess … if they let it go, would piracy rates explode? I doubt it. Would people stop buying from legal outlets? I doubt it. So what is the deal? This is directly from Steve’s post:
… 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.
Sounds logical to me, but I am not pretending to be an expert in any of this … it isn’t my space at all, but it feels like this could be the start of something. If Steve and Apple could crack the labels the first time and get them to look into the future, could this be the opening salvo in a new way of looking at digital content? It could also just be a slick marketing move on the part of Apple, but at the end of the day Apple wins if the labels win … am I wrong about that? Are there changes in the future for us as it relates to the stuff we “own?”