Like other sane people across the blogosphere, I was happy to hear about Steve Jobs' innocuously titled "Thoughts on Music" essay in which he recommends that DRM be abolished. While it's hard to argue with his conclusion it brings up a simple question: if Apple is in fact in favor of abolishing DRM than why has it refused to allow artists and indie labels in the past to simply opt out?
It was only last month that the NY Times ran an op-ed piece that called Apple out for "pretending that the decision to use copy protection is out of it's hands" and gave an example of one label that preferred to sell their wares uncrippled:
Among the artists who can be found at eMusic are Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, who are represented by Nettwerk Music Group, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. All Nettwerk releases are available at eMusic without copy protection.
But when the same tracks are sold by the iTunes Music Store, Apple insists on attaching FairPlay copy protection that limits their use to only one portable player, the iPod. Terry McBride, Nettwerk’s chief executive, said that the artists initially required Apple to use copy protection, but that this was no longer the case. At this point, he said, copy protection serves only Apple’s interests.
Many other people have noted that Apple, and not the big four record labels, is the main beneficiary from FairPlay. While it's nice to see calls for an end to DRM in the headlines of the mainstream news this all sounds a bit disingenuous.
With Norway, France, Germany and the Netherlands all filing complaints in the EU against Apple's lack of interoperability, this nice spiel allows Steve to simply point the finger at the usual suspects (the RIAA) and say it's all their fault. Or perhaps after years of crippling the competition Apple is comfortable enough with their lead that they don't think they need the advantage anymore. Or maybe the lack of DRM will eventually be the rationale that makes the market accept the variable pricing that the majors have long been seeking for itunes MP3 sales.
As Jobs himself notes, the majors account for 70% of the music that is released. What about the other 30% and that long tail we keep hearing about? Avril's music wants to be free...