Tuesday, February 20, 2007

DRM: Should It Be Abolished?

The Digital Rights Management system is used to protect music against theft and requires customers to purchase music from the Apple’s iTunes store. Apple’s DRM system is called FairPlay and helps Apple to protect the music that’s downloaded and sold on iTunes, because Apple does not control or own the rights to any of the music itself. There are four major music companies that own the rights to the music sold on iTunes, and those companies are: Warner, EMI, Sony BMG, and Universal. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. Apple approached these four companies in order to license and distribute their music over the Internet legally. The four major music companies required that Apple protect their music from being illegally copied, so the DRM system was created. The DRM system only allows songs purchased on iTunes to be played on authorized devices.

DRM systems have secret codes and locks that prevent illegal downloading of the music sold on iTunes. But, there are people who discover the locks and secrets and make the music available for downloading illegally. Every time someone discovers the locks and codes for the DRM system, Apple must come up with new locks and codes to protect the music from being illegally downloaded.

Recently, Steve Jobs (image to the right), the chief executive of Apple, proposed that the DRM system should be dropped altogether. Jobs said, "...the DRM system hasn’t worked and may never work, to halt music piracy.” Only two percent of music on the average iPod has been purchased from the iTunes store. Also, music that is sold in the form of CD’s is unprotected and can be purchased and then uploaded onto the internet, and then illegally downloaded and played on any computer or player. So technically, what good is the DRM system?

Job’s proposal to abolish the DRM system has received mixed opinions from music companies. A report made by analyst Mark Mulligan showed that 54% of music executives that were questioned thought that current DRM systems were too restrictive. Among all record labels, 48% of executives thought ending DRM would boost download sales. Executive of Warner Music, Edgar Bronfman, had a different opinion from Jobs. According to Bronfman, "DRM and interoperability are not the same thing. Warner Music believes very strongly in interoperability. Consumers want it and consumers should have it." He said, "As a content company, we, of course, want consumers to seamlessly access our music and to use the music they have purchased on any platform and with any service, physical or digital." Bronfman also stated that, "The issue is obscured by asserting that DRM and interoperability is the same thing. They are not. To suggest that they cannot coexist is incorrect." Bronfman supports the continued use of DRM to protect their music and the artist’s music even though their music is illegally available unprotected. The same copyright and protection laws apply to software, television, film, and video games, so why should music be an exception?

Some have speculated that Apple’s motives are to look good in the eyes of the consumer. Apple is using the DRM-free music as a PR effort with consumers. Apple wants to look like the “nice-guy” compared to the big music companies who look greedy and unconcerned about the consumers. Also, Jobs has stated that DRM-free music would be better for customers who want to use alternative music stores and music players. As Jobs stated in his "Thoughts on Music" letter, "The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where...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." But, logically it is easier and more cost efficient for Apple to not have to maintain and update FairPlay constantly.

Steve Job’s main concern is Apple. Steve Jobs and Apple are not concerned about the record companies or the consumer’s best interest. The continued use of a DRM system requires that Apple hire competent computer experts that require to be paid substantially, to constantly update, code, and apply secret locks to the FairPlay system. The DRM system adds unwanted costs for Apple, so it would be in Apple’s best interest to abolish the DRM system. DRM-free music would allow Apple to continue to sell their music on iTunes and make profits without incurring added costs from paying computer experts to encode the FairPlay system. This is the true motive behind Steve Jobs and Apple computers DRM-free system.

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