Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Apple asks music companies to drop digital restrictions

Jerry Stratton, February 6, 2007

It never made sense to claim that Apple was pressuring music companies to keep requiring digital restriction mechanisms on their music. Now, on the front page of the Apple web site, Steve Jobs writes that Apple would prefer that all music be sold to the consumer just as it is sold on a CD: in a format that is easily format-shifted to any player.

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. 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.

One of the things that digital restriction mechanisms do is impede technological advancement. DRM of the past is a hurdle for new, innovative products, that end up having to support the old restrictions.

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.

Some people have even claimed that, if the record companies were to drop DRM, Apple would continue to sell artificially restricted music from the iTunes Music Store! That never made any sense, but it is nice to see Apple publicly refute this.

Even now, Ars Technica is finding it hard to let go of the Apple Loves DRM meme.

It is too easy to forget what the world was like when Apple came out with the iTunes Music Store. I remember worrying that in a few years I wouldn’t be able to play any music on my Macintosh. The world was heading for heavily-restricted music, sold on complex terms that required music fans to rent their music. And part of the restrictions were that the complex mechanisms were implemented only for Windows; the software necessary to play this music was rarely ported over to the Macintosh. It looked a lot like those fancy new iPods would soon be empty of anything except ancient music from the days of CD.

For someone who, because of iTunes, had started listening to music again, this was a bleak vision.

The iTunes Music Store was a huge change. It brought back an ownership model and jettisoned the rental model. It was easy to use and easy to understand. Because of this, it was successful. At the time, I’d hoped that other companies would recognize that making music easier to listen to would sell more music and make more money. In a sane industry the success of the iTMS would have started a consumer-friendly race to fewer and fewer restrictions. But for the most part, other companies continue to try to push rental models, and create restriction mechanisms that allow the seller to take rights away even after the sale. And so the iTunes Music Store remains the number one store.

Apple probably recognizes that even with the additional competitors they’ll see in a restriction-free world, there will still be a lot more money to be made when consumers can do with their on-line music what they can do with their CDs.

In response to Apple encourages MP3 distribution?: Apple’s steadfast refusal to either license their own digital restriction mechanism or program other restriction mechanisms into the iPod may be encouraging labels to switch to unrestricted sales.