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Some thoughts on Apple and DRM
Software and Technology by
Posted on Sat, Feb 10, 2007 at 15:26 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:31 IST)
- Put the onus completely on the Music companies on the DRM issue and disclaim all responsibility for the consequences of the technology.
- Convince the customers of Apple that it's not "their fault."
Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store – they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold. Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.What's the big deal with throwing around these numbers? It's stating the obvious! Everybody knows Apple doesn't make the big bucks selling music. If they were, then they would obviously be a lot more pro-DRM. They can afford to take the popular anti-DRM stance. It's not a big sacrifice on their part at all. They make money on the hardware. In particular, read the highlighted line carefully. They're trying hard to dispel the image that they're trying to lock in customers to their hardware - that is their real focus. Apple want to dispel that image badly. They have tacitly admitted that DRM music cannot be a success with their hardware. At the same time, if the Music companies had their way, DRM would be a success and nobody would be able to be able to listen to music without DRM. Apple want to immediately disclaim responsibility on that point. Sheer genius...
So 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.Perfect, again. The highlighted point is the crux of the issue: the technical overheads required to create, operate and update a DRM system. Nowhere do I see any moral objection to the concept of DRM itself - as a means of limiting a paying customer from exercising his/her rights to fair use. It's an argument which essentially highlights an economic and technical reason to abandon DRM. While this might sound like music (no pun intended) to many customers' ears, the barrier might possibly be overcome at any point of time when DRM does become feasible. In that case, would Apple back the Music companies on the DRM issue? Nowhere does Apple commit itself to this issue and it's obvious why. If DRM does force more people to choose Apple hardware, why should they oppose it? Such a situation can be easily created through a deal between the Music companies and Apple if the right conditions arise. The question is whether those conditions will ever be created at all. In other words, they're not interested in the other aspects of DRM - legal, social and ethical. And why should they be? They're a shrewd business entity... and their motive is profit and market-share. When they have both, why should they really worry about what are essentially peripheral issues to them? More than anything, this line tells me that people who are against DRM cannot rely on Apple to take a firm stand against the technology. For Apple have clearly embraced DRM whether they say so or not. They want to have it both ways, for sure, but when it come to the crunch, they will not say "no" to DRM and risk the wrath of the music industry. Steve says so very clearly:
Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries. Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.Those unhappy with the situation? Clearly Apple aren't unhappy. In fact, they're laughing all the way to the bank after selling their iPods. This article was clearly intended as an exercise in PR. And in reality, that's exactly what it is. Apple aren't against DRM. They will clearly embrace DRM if they see that it is to their benefit. The only reason I see for them to oppose DRM is for business reasons. And business reasons dictate that since the majority of iPod users are people who're playing copied music without DRM support they don't embrace it wholeheartedly. (a.k.a. continue playing ball with both sides) So whose side are they really on? The simple answer - neither side. They're on their own side vigilantly guarding their interests. Point out the music industry to the customer and the customer to the music industry and then wait and watch from a distance. Reminds me of the story where two dogs were fighting over a piece of biscuit and the monkey came between them to arbitrate. In the end, the monkey ended up with the biscuit... Oh yes, Apple are shrewd, all right.