Just the Jobs

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Apple boss, Steve Jobs, has publicly said he wants record labels to allow downloadable music without Digital Rights Management (DRM). Apple have been criticised (and even threatened with bans by several European countries) for the ‘Fairplay’ DRM on songs sold through the iTunes Music Store, which (deliberately or not) only allow the music to be played in the iTunes software or on an iPod music player.

However, I was always strongly under the impression that the inclusion of DRM was at the insistance of the record labels, which this request would seem to indicate. Without the DRM, they simply would not licence their music to Apple, so they have no choice but to include the ‘anti-piracy’ measures.

As well as limiting iTunes Music Store purchases to Apple software and hardware, the ‘Fairplay’ DRM restricts the number of computers a song can be played on, and also restricts things like how many times you can burn your legitimately-purchased music on to CD. Removing the DRM would mean that the files could be played on any software or hardware that supports the AAC format used by the iTunes Music Store, and copied, moved and, most importantly, played as the purchaser wishes.

Ideally, there would be no DRM in digitally distributed media, but if used it should be completely transparent to the user, and wouldn’t pose any restrictions to legitimate use. In reality, it does things like stop people watching high-definition versions of their legally-purchased Blu-ray discs on their legally-purchased players through their legally-purchased HD TVs, because one of the devices, even an AV cable, doesn’t support the required DRM.

I’ve personally had to register for licenses for content that I’ve created, heard pops in legally purchased, ‘copy-protected’ CDs that I’ve transferred to my iPod, and for some reason, my iTunes music library has four of the maximum five computers registered to it, even though we only have two. This hasn’t caused any problems yet, but could the next time I reinstall my OS or add a user to either computer.

Hopefully this is a significant step towards a DRM-free future.

Apple seeks online music shake-up [bbc.co.uk]

Update: A more detailed look at Jobs’ open letter, and further insight in to the Apple/DRM situation — Apple would “switch to selling only DRM-free music” if labels agree [arstechnica.com]

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