Steve’s Thoughts on Music

Steve Jobs has written an article titled “Thoughts on Music” in which he blames DRM entirely on the labels. Steve claims Apple wants to sell DRM-free music but the labels won’t let them. This of course flies in the face of reality. From an article in the NYTimes last month:

Among the artists who can be found at eMusic are Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, who are represented by Nettwerk Music Group, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. All Nettwerk releases are available at eMusic without copy protection.

But when the same tracks are sold by the iTunes Music Store, Apple insists on attaching FairPlay copy protection that limits their use to only one portable player, the iPod. Terry McBride, Nettwerk’s chief executive, said that the artists initially required Apple to use copy protection, but that this was no longer the case. At this point, he said, copy protection serves only Apple’s interests .

Josh Bernoff, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, agreed, saying copy protection “just locks people into Apple.” He said he had recently asked Apple when the company would remove copy protection and was told, “We see no need to do so.”

Apple’s statement is a detailed treatise on the subject, compared with what I received when I asked the company last week whether it would offer tracks without copy protection if the publisher did not insist on it: the Apple spokesman took my query and never got back to me.

It should not take Apple’s iTunes team more than 2-3 days to implement a solution for not wrapping content with FairPlay when the content owner does not mandate DRM. This could be done in a completely transparent way and would not be confusing to the users.

Actions speak louder than words, Steve.

32 thoughts on “Steve’s Thoughts on Music

  1. David Dean

    The big content providers may be insisting that they will pull out if any music is made available without DRM. The two statements are not necessaily inconsitent.

  2. Ole

    You’re right. But one can argue that this letter is action. It’s definitely fuel on the fire, and hopefully it makes the big 4 to rethink some of its politics.

  3. Danny

    This isn’t action – this is in response to record companies already, quite openly rethinking their policies. He doesn’t want apple to look like the drm monger that it is.

  4. Sean

    Ole: one can argue that words are action? yes, one can also argue that a banana is a monkey

  5. Snarky

    I’d agree with ya, Danny. I’ve got Apple using friends who somehow got the impression that DRM from microsoft was evil, yet whatever Apple gives is gold. To Apple, its important for their users to think that Apple is the good guy here, merely doing what they have to to get by.

    I was more interested in his argument that users aren’t locked into certain players due to some nice statistics. I’d be willing to bet that rather than the mixed iPods that he envisions, its a lot more likely (for the average person) to either have all free or all paid for music, not this nice homogeneous “everyone has 3%” idea. It sounds to me like Microsoft claiming not to be a monopoly because of whatever reasons they think of this year.

    And I’m completely with you Jon (not entirely because I’m a Jon as well *grin*) that there should be a real easy work around if some devs sat down and thought it out for a few minutes. If Apple cares about what the world as a whole thinks 9as this article claims) they’d better make more than words towards disliking DRM.

  6. Ole

    Sean: Sure, if you like…
    My point is only that I think the statement from Jobs makes a difference. It sure initiated some action and debate in the blogosphere…

  7. Daniel Axelrod

    Keep in mind that Apple probably has to get the copyright holder to agree to a new contract before offering their music non-DRMmed. I’m hoping what Jobs meant is that they’d implement non-DRMed files for iTunes once they could get the big 4 to agree to it the next time their contract is renegotiated. Of course, we won’t know how serious Apple is until we see some results.

    The only unequivocal good thing about Jobs thoughts is that he acknowledges that DRM sucks, rather than trying to make the argument that FairPlay is good enough for consumers and that anyone who feels hampered by FairPlay is committing copyright infringement.

    Let’s hope this goes somewhere.

  8. David Dean

    Jon, I agree to a point. If what I suggest were true, that the record companies behavior would be anti-competitive. I don’t agree that the fear of antitrust regulation would stop them from doing it.

  9. Tom

    Apple likes simplicity and cleanness… imagine the confusion that would be caused if certain songs had DRM and certain songs didn’t. You and I could grasp that concept easily, but mom and dad might not.

    We should be happy that Apple (Jobs) is speaking out about this, after all, they are the top digital music store, they must have *some* influence.

  10. Sandra Browne

    I can’t see the major record labels letting their new releases or back catalogues go out for online sale without DRM of some sort. Sure there are minor companies and some artists who allow it to happen. If you are a smaller player then you have nothing to lose by trying to get a higher profile, and maybe more sales. Why a few better-known artists (such as Sarah McLachlan, if it’s true) let their music go on sale without DRM is not entirely clear. Perhaps somebody should interview her and publish the answers. Unless we have an open standard for DRM, this problem will not go away. For example, the BBC has just released a consultation document proposing to make all content available online to UK residents for a week, but it will be wrapped only in Windows Media DRM, and available only to Windows users. I for one will be the first to lay an ant-competitive complaint against this if they go through with it.

  11. Bryan

    We are moving into a world where information travels more freely than ever before. It’s only a matter of time before “protection” of media files becomes obsolete in itself, as data travels through our very atmosphere and is absorbed by new types of receivers. The collapse of the modern system of media distribution has been predicted as early as the advent of data transmission itself. The only pure “fix” will be to use ancient technology disconnected from the network. DRM is among one of the final fortresses to be shattered by a society that yearns for, and will inevitably obtain free culture.

  12. markliversedge

    This is all very interesting. I am waiting for consumer *ownership* of digital media to be an obsolete concept.

    When we start paying a fee for *access* to content the drm function is of no interest at all since we have no need to make copies of content. Pay to Play. Lets all stop hording content and start paying for access to it. I think the porn industry (as usual) is setting the pace here with vod etc. The big change required is not with the record companies and the technologists its with us the consumer. I guess only time will tell.

  13. JuggerNaut

    When will Microsoft get nailed for their PlaysForSure/Janus (hence closed) DRM… especially their own Zune ecosystem?? Microsoft should be held accountable for locking consumers into Windows using DRM technologies that only work on Windows and/or Zune!

  14. Travis

    Microsoft will gladly license out their DRM for use in (closed-source) Linux clients. I think Fluendo is working on this right now. You have a point about the Zune though.

  15. Chris

    markliversedge, I think it’s clear that nobody will want to turn their computers into cash jukeboxes like they have at bars. The economics has changed and I think people seem to ignore this. The cost to produce and distribute a live album now professionally can be under a few grand. That’s hiring an engineer to make adjustments, someone to do album art, and putting it up in the cloud. Before, record companies would have to make a decision to put out a greatest hits comp and pay for promotion, production (physical materials), shipping, etc. That is a very drastic change.

    I think we can all learn from Allofmp3. Since we have this capability to carry a enormous amount of information in our pockets for minimal cost, why not eliminate piracy through price and make money from selling by volume? We saw with Napster that when people are exposed to these massive music libraries, there is a greater demand for music. People will take more chances buying an unknown band’s cd when it’s priced at $3.00 rather than $17. The best model at the moment is a hybrid subscription/.99 cents per track. If you want to subscribe, great. If you don’t download much 99 cents is alright too. Having both models there would be great because the people who bought a subscription would not have to worry that the labels would slow down releases because they still need to sell individual tracks and albums. Both models would have access to the same library.

    Sorry for my rant….but I really do think the only way to defeat music piracy is through price.

    With regards to what Jobs posted….I think what he said is pretty straight forward. He also put this out because of the increased pressure in Europe to open up iTunes, not to persuade the music companies to sell DRM free. Apple I know internally wants DRM free. So does Microsoft. It’s the labels that fight this. With P2P and the current prices for music, I would too. If you really want to put iTunes store music on your Zune, burn the CD. You can do that legally. Opening up FairPlay I think would expose some secrets that Apple isn’t ready for. Microsoft has been engineering PlaysForSure to work on many different players for quite some time. Apple has not and I they don’t intend to. If you want to get content from the iTunes Store to play on your Rio, you will have to talk to the content owners, not Apple.

  16. Richard

    The real point is that DRM is going very soon to be illegal in Europe, where it seems consumer protection is stronger than corporate US. France and Norway have already moved, and others are moving. So the choice for the rights holders and DRM babies is grow up and come into the real world, or lose a huge market definitively.

  17. artifex

    Jon,

    In 2004 Apple made available audio tracks of the US vice presidential and presidential debates, in ITMS. To my understanding, they should have been public domain, and yet they were DRMed. What do you say to that, and do you think if they do it again in 2008 they could be sued? What’s the legal status of putting your own DRM on something that is public domain, and re-releasing it? It certainly serves to lock in users to a DRM system, doesn’t it?

    In my opinion, the whole idea that having more choice is confusing is total BS. Someone just wanting to play the tracks on their iPods or in ITMS would see no change at all in functionality, except they wouldn’t be halted from making unlimited copies. NO CHANGE. Those who wanted to use them for other purposes, on the other hand, suddenly could easily do so, without workarounds.

  18. markliversedge

    Chris,

    I pay Sky 47 a month for access to all their TV content. I’m happy to spend 20 a month to Apple (or allofmp3) for access to all their music content. I’m not talking about paying per track I’m talking about paying for access to the entire catalog.

    If enough consumers switch to this model revenue streams for the record companies would be stabilised and the consumer would have greater choice. DRM will be required like today, but we wouldn’t care because we are streaming/dlownloading to play content and not to own it.

    Different business model and different consumer perspective. If you think this is a crazy idea then keep on giving allofmp3 your money so you can “own” a fraction of their catalog rather than givingthem a fixed amount to play any song they have whenever you want.

    If you are struggling with how mobile devices would work thats pretty simple too, content downloaded would be locked into the device and would expire when you stopped paying fees (which would require licences to be refreshed by docking occasionally, but you’ll probably do that to download new content anyway). If you get a new device you’d register it with your content provider.

  19. eduo

    Markliversedge: I may misunderstand how Sky works, but to my understanding you pay a monthly fee to have access to all their online content. You can see everything they are running in any channel. Your extrapolation would mean you’d have several hundred music channels and you’d be able to hear (and record, in real time, at the broadcast quality) any of them without restrictions.

    I may be misunderstanding, but it seems to me you’re extending a “pay per view” model to a “pay per copy with intents of unrestricted playback” as if they were the same thing.

    You can, of course, record content from Sky, but the tools to do so are your own and your responsibility. Sky possibly frowns upon recording and moving that content to other devices (again, I may be wrong) and there may be advertising included in the content that also would be lacking in the iTMS model.

    Unless Sky now is a “pick anything we have ever owned at any moment in time and store it in your computer for playback repeatedly and copying to other devices” I don’t think the comparison is fair or even accurate.

  20. openpimp

    Someone should ask Steve if he’s willing to put all of the Pixar film catalog up on iTunes in cleartext. This is obvious posturing against EU lawsuits, MS, and the coming mobile handset showdown. There is perhaps no one in the history of technology that possibly believes his own bullshit more than Steve Jobs.

  21. jojomonkey

    It’s all about impressions. Apple has a nice ignorant following and does good to advertise itself as ‘non-evil’. All (if not most) of my iPod toteing friends are in love w/ the device even though it offers less features than other competitve devices (e.g. Creative’s line of MP3 players) and furthermore they believe that somehow Apple created MP3 players in the first place. I’m glad to see someone catching Jobs in a complete lie though never surprised.

    Take Care,

  22. Tim

    You are missing the point totally. Apple is about SIMPLE. If all tracks cost 1 price and have the same restrictions, it’s simple. We all hope they would have NO restriction. If some have 1 restriction, and others different restrictions, and all have different pricing, that is not SIMPLE.

  23. artifex

    Markliversedge: In the US there’s at least one company that does that, I think: Napster.
    But who wants to pay $15 a month for music that disappears when you stop paying?
    I wouldn’t, but I do have a subscription to a satellite radio service. Figure that one out. Maybe because it’s in my car and stuff. I don’t have to download it and store it anywhere.

    Speaking of music disappearing, it used to be that you could get a big collection of albums and then pass them on to your kids when you died, or sell them off if you get bored with them. When you die, your ITMS music essentially dies, unless your kids have your password to authorize their computers, etc. Okay, I guess you could burn audio discs from them. But you can’t sell a used ITMS track to someone else, legally, can you? Not unless you hand over your password, which means they have access to all the other music you bought in that account.

  24. Ronald Schoedel

    Intrigued by the statement from the New York Times that music from Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne is DRM-free on eMusic, as a member of eMusic, I went there and did a search. The only Avril Lavigne “content” on eMusic is a single song from a Nettwerk Music Group CHRISTMAS COMPILATION DISK featuring Avril and the aforementioned artists. Hardly a complete catalog. A few COMPLIATION CDs, with a single song or two from each artist–but not current major releases. And what’s more, Nettwerk won’t allow one of the tracks on the aforementioned Christmas CD, by Jack Johnson, to be offered online.

    This NYT article writer is gonna have to come up with a better claim than this bogus one. He makes it sound like the entire catalogues of these major artists can be downloaded DRM-free on eMusic. When in reality, NONE of their major songs are available on eMusic at all.

    I dislike DRM as much as the next guy, but let’s be honest when reporting, at least.

  25. Trideep

    If labels are interested in publishing copyrighted DRM free content on Itunes do it as a podcast. Many independent publishers already do it. I dont see the point of DRM free music. No one listens to Sarah.. If she suddenly became popular she would later ask for DRM on her music. She has to eat and buy a small island.

  26. markliversedge

    Eduo,

    There are indeed many problems with my analogy. I wasn’t intending to compare Skys business model with paying for access to a broad music catalog, just wanted to explain by way of an example the difference between paying for content access versus paying to own it, hopefully that made sense. Having said all of that Sky have already indicated they have major plans for making more content available as VOD and streaming over the internet, C4/E4 are already doing it, and so are the BBC.

    I have many problems with Sky, most of which are a function of their monopoly over distrinution rights for certain content I enjoy and the lack of choice I have for digital TV in the UK. All of which will disappear once quality TV content distribution via the internet becomes more prevalent and I can finally exercise some choice!!!

    And lets be clear – With respect to music distribution and sales I’m thinking if services as they could be in the future not as they are now …

  27. Scott Frazer

    2 things: First off, Apple’s is easily the least evil of the popular DRM schemes out there, giving you and easy way to turn your purchase into an un-DRMed CD right in the download client, for no additional charge.

    Second, I agree with the earlier poster than said making only some tracks non-DRMed on download would be confusing to the non technical users out there. Why can I play this BareNakedLadies song on my Rio, but not this U2 song? Until there’s a tipping point where about half the content could be sold without DRM (and the other half labeled in such a way as to make the consumer feel they are getting an inferior product because of the DRM) I doubt Apple will do it. Their design and interface choices almost always favor simplicity over feature-richness, especially on consumer-level devices.

  28. J The A

    Artifex makes a good point, though not the one he intended, i think. If the iTMS put DRM on public domain content, that says to me that they have to DRM all of their content hosted on the iTMS servers, probably through a contract clause with the big 4. Which is a good tactic for the draconian music industry. If you could get non-DRM content from iTMS from independent artists, that puts pressure on the music industry to follow suit. I just wish the government would stop with the protective legislation. I mean, if the music industry had a fair estimation of what their product was worth, people would buy it instead of stealing it, pure and simple. And stop endorsing subscription formats. That’s even worse. Then if you decide to unplug from the cash vacuum that is subscription based services, you lose access to the music you spent hundreds of dollars on. Screw that noise.

  29. JamesG

    Jon, I don’t like to deal with DRM over time so I sometimes will burn them to an audio CD and then rip them back to computer in order to bypass it. Do you have any numbers on what sort of quality is lost in this translation process?

    I use iTunes more to evaluate music for purchase later in the form of a real CD. If it’s an individual song I will buy it, but in most cases if I like most of the album (and I am familiar with most of the songs and the reviews are favorable) then I will go ahead and buy the physical CD.

    I don’t pay any attention anymore to Steve’s RDF or his attempts at philanthropy. Apple’s not about providing anything for free, it’s about making profits.

  30. richard

    The conundrum is that DRM helps the consumer of subscription music (RENTED); but hurts the seller of tracks (PURCHASED).

    Back when Apple dominated the SUBSIDIZED hardware market for DRMed PURCHASED music…they were happy with the way things were…even though it PENALIZED the consumer.

    Now, with the launch of Zune Marketplace/Player, Apple is confronted with a competitor with a strategic advantage…a feature that benefits the Consumer over the Industry…Subsidized hardware that offers RENTED music.

    For $180 per year, the user has complete access to millions of tracks in a mix and match, fill’er’up format. All for the cost of 180 tracks on an iPod. Because the music is DRM’ed, the industry has no fear that the tracks would be pirated. However, the conversion price of RENTED tracks versus PURCHASED tracks has to be recalculated.

    The bigger the storage space, the greater the need for lower cost content. And that naturally will drive users to subscription music, even with its DRM.

    The only way to restore the “appearance” of a value proposition to a PURCHASED track is to strip away the DRM. However, this still won’t actually increase the real value…only the pervceived value. Real value only increases through misuse…that is, a DRM-less track is only “more” valuable BECAUSE YOU CAN MIS-USE IT!

    Properly respected, the fair use restrictions on a DRM-less track limits its practical use to the same as a DRM’ed track. DRM is only an enforcement mechanism; not a rights grant.

    So to state Jobs’ claim differently: Exactly HOW does DRM-less music help the consumer if it doesn’t ALSO convey NEW RIGHTS? (It doesn’t.)

    But it does help the industry publishers, because it props up the track price.

    I have a Zune. It currently holds in excess of 3,000 tracks, which I have been listening to for the past 3 months. Total track cost: $45 (1.5 CENTS each). If I stick with these same 3,000 tracks for 12 months (without deleting any and adding new releases), my carrying cost (if you will) rises to $180 (6 CENTS each).

    The magic really happens when I add and delete HUNDREDS of tracks each month every month for the entire year. If I do this, my cost rises to…okay, so it doesn’t rise a penny. It is still $180, and the track cost technically drops as I refine my collection.

    If this is a profitable model for Microsoft’s Zune, then Apple will experience significant loss of marketshare, both in hardware sales and content sales. Their only hope of converting their “market leader” advantage into future growth is to ELIMINATE subsidized DRM’ed subscription music. If that was your goal, what would YOU suddenly start advocating….

  31. Stefab

    @ richard: Rented music is nothing I would really use. just think: You spend 180$ each year, you do this 10 years, spent 1800$, have maybe still your 3000 songs, but you are finished, quit the marketplace or something similar. You spent 1800$ for not a single track, everything is lost. Except there is some way to keep the tracks after your subscribtion. But how much will this cost?

    If there is some renting system, where you can listen to all music – and to keep it get this cheaper as normally. It has to be some kind of way, you can keep your music (at least partially) after quitting the subscribtion. Maybe like: You can convert your rent-Dollars to Buy-Dollars, so if you already spent 1800$, you can keep 1818 of your songs, even if you quit. Something similar has to be done to make rentet music attractive for customers.

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