Steve seems to have caused quite a bit of debate with the article he published on the Apple web site yesterday titled Thoughts on Music. Steve starts very sensibly by explain how we got to where we are now. He points out that Apple had no choice but to add DRM to the iTunes store or it would never have become a reality and he argues that Apple got a very good deal for customers with their FairPlay DRM. This is a point I’ve argued with Des for years now. What’s nice about this article is that Steve doesn’t simply defend FairPlay and leave it at that, instead he spells out three possible alternatives for the future. He’s luke-warm on the idea of keeping things as they are, positively against even trying to open up FairPlay (and makes a strong case for why it simply wouldn’t work) and finally argues strongly in favor of the third option, an end to DRM on legally downloaded music. This quote is just music to my ears (pun intended):

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.

[tags]Apple, Steve Jobs, Music, DRM[/tags]

I’m no expert on the music industry but at this stage I think it’s fair to say that Steve Jobs has a pretty good understanding of it. I’ve said for years that DRM is pointless because it doesn’t work and only serves to annoy people and drive them towards piracy. It was nice to also see Steve argue against DRM but from a much more music-industry-centric point of view. In particular the follow extract caught my attention:

Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

Hang on a sec, if the majority of digital music (CDs are digital) is sold BY THE RECORD COMPANIES without DRM, why on earth should those of us who want to get our music without the need for polluting factories, packaging, and shipping be lumbered with DRM? Can it possibly achieve anything? Not really, it hasn’t prevented piracy, and it just annoys the people who have been good enough not to pirate the content in the first place! DRM makes about as much sense as lecturers giving off to those who do come to class about poor attendance, they are picking on totally the wrong people and alienating the ones that were on their side!

Steve is not entirely right though, there has been DRM invented for CDs, anyone remember those lovely Sony Root Kits? Thankfully that was enough of a disaster for Sony, and caused enough bad press for the music industry, that it seems to have killed the idea of DRM on CDs.

Although Steve is very much saying what consumers want to hear he is not using the kind of phrases I would. He’s not pointing out that DRM drives people to piracy or that it pisses people off, instead he’s pitching his arguments straight at the music labels and pointing out that DRM is bad for the one thing they care about, their bottom line:

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.

OK, so Steve seems to have added some serious fuel to the campaign to get rid of DRM, but why this statement now? Well, I very much doubt that the fact that Apple is coming under a lot of fire in Scandinavia and Europe was unrelated to the content and timing of this article. Apple are taking all the heat over DRM and I think Steve feels that’s not fair. He’s pointing out that it’s not Apple’s fault, and that everyone else is doing it too for all the same reasons. It’s also obvious that he wants to redirect some of the bad press Apple have been getting towards those he feels it should rightfully be aimed at:

Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.

So, reading between the lines, accepting that this is about improving Apple’s image, making them cool and hip in the eyes of the young ones, and diverting some of the public’s ire towards the evil record labels, what’s the important point to take away from this article? In my view it’s the one thing Steve repeated in the article, Apple would welcome a DRM free world. That can only be a good thing for you, me, and every one else who legally downloads music via iTunes or any other online store. I’ll leave you with Steve’s own concluding remarks

Convincing [the music studios] to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.