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Steve Jobs urges labels to set the music freeKatie Allen, media business correspondent
Wednesday February 7, 2007
Major record labels are expected to start stripping copyright protection from their music downloads within the next six months after Apple chief, Steve Jobs, forced the issue with an open letter to the industry. Mr Jobs called on the big four major labels - Sony BMG, Universal, EMI and Warner Music - to abandon their policy of requiring Apple and other online retailers to package music downloads in digital rights management software that controls which devices it can be played on.
Apple, under fire from some consumers and record label executives for only allowing tracks downloaded from its iTunes store to be transferred to its market-leading iPod player, placed the blame squarely at the door of the big labels.
Mr Jobs, on the Apple website, argues that abandoning digital rights management was "clearly the best alternative for consumers" and said Apple would embrace such a move "in a heartbeat".
Major label executives had privately hoped to force Apple to make both the iPod and iTunes Music Store, which uses its own proprietary format called Fairplay, interoperable with other players and online retailers.
But Mr Jobs said the only way forward was to remove the technology altogether "because DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy".
Analysts said Mr Jobs was hoping to force the major labels into action. Most independent labels already make their music available in the non-restricted MP3 format.
"Given what we are seeing with music companies and how they have insisted on this in the past it will not happen suddenly, it will be a gradual erosion as people like EMI play around with DRM-free tracks," said Paul Jackson, principal analyst at Forrester.
EMI has experimented with DRM-free releases by Lily Allen and Norah Jones.
A spokesman said today: "The lack of interoperability between a rapidly expanding range of platforms and devices is definitely becoming more and more of an issue for music fans and we have been working with and will continue to work with our various partners to find a solution."
The other major labels refused to comment but privately take a similar line, putting the onus on technology companies to come up with a solution that will make it possible to play downloads on any portable player but also allow them to maintain control.
Peter Ruppert, founder of consultancy Entertainment Media Research, said: "He's just said the right thing at the right time, it's great for his branding. He's going to announce a deal with some big major and they are going to get rid of DRM along with everyone else. I think it's going to be very sudden."
John Kennedy, head of international music industry group IFPI, said he was pleased that Mr Jobs now wanted to address interoperability, "but he appears to be saying that interoperability has draconian side effects. We don't believe that that need be the case."
"After such a long period without interoperability, it seems to me that the right thing to do would be for Steve Jobs to sit down with the industry and say 'I believe these are the consequences if I allow interoperability' and for the industry to explain how we believe that some of the side effects that he believes are inevitable are not inevitable.
"Until now Steve Jobs has not advocated interoperability; perhaps now the door is open to find a combination of interoperability and DRM to have a win/win scenario for Apple, the music industry and the consumer."
"If you're not on somebody's watchlist,you're not doing your job"
Dave Von Kleist
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