Jobs: DRM Is Dumb

appleSteve Jobs has put out a pretty gutsy memo that essentially lays out Apple’s stance regarding DRM and what an immense waste of time and energy it is for everyone involved. In short, Jobs asserts that if the big record labels agreed to drop DRM protection altogether, Apple would wholeheartedly embrace it.

I for one have never and would never buy music from iTunes precisely because of the restrictions associated with that music. Put another way, if iTunes sold plain vanilla MP3’s, I’d be all over it. I may actually never take advantage of the “freedom” of purchasing unrestricted content, I just like knowing that I can. I think this is partly why CD’s so drastically eclipse online sales even to this day. People know that when they buy a CD, they truly own it and can do with it what they wish.

I also think this is less about the DRM restrictions that are in place than it is about the lack of knowledge around DRM. People don’t feel good about what they don’t know. They’re confident about their ownership when purchasing a CD, not so much when buying a song on iTunes.

Also, Jobs points out that the entire DRM cat and mouse game is a losing (and extremely costly) proposition for everyone involved. The gain is nowhere near the cost.

Oddly, this isn’t about legal minutia and content ownership. It’s about human nature. Hackers love the challenge of cracking the code as an end in itself, not as a means to steal music. And consumers want to know that when they buy something, they really own it. Acknowledging these two nearly obvious facts can get everyone to a better place.

4 Comments Jobs: DRM Is Dumb

  1. Thijs

    The only reason Jobs says it’s dumb is because several European organisations want to sue Apple for selling music that never can be yours because of the DRM system. If those countries succeed Apple will (be forced to) loose alot of customers and that’s why Apple now is trying to find a solution for the drm-problem they created and support themselves. So I think the reason behind this memo is the possibility that Apple won’t be able to sell stuff in Europe anymore and thats bad bad news for Apple, and enough reason to make an effort to find a solution for this problem. DRM always has been a problem for the consumers but now that it also might hurt Apple themselves, theyre finally speaking up and willing to do something about it.
    Jobs mentions Europeans should talk to their record companies but obviously Apple has way more power to convince them, it’s not our problem if the ITunes store has to close.

  2. Avi Flax

    I like the bottom-line analysis that you end with here – you get to the heart of what it’s really all about – and in a clearer and more powerful way than even Jobs himself does.

  3. Tom D.

    Of course Apple would live to see DRM dropped. It’s less work for them and would give them more sales. Merrill Lynch would love it if they didn’t have to deal with the SEC, but that’s not going to happen either.
    Thre’s a fundamental disconnect between content owners (studios, record companies, etc) and consumers. The content owners would say you don’t really “own” the music on all those CD’s you have. You own the plastic disc, but you’ve merely got a license to the content on said disc. The disc, to them, is just a delivery mechanism. As Sony showed last year with the rootkit debacle, they would love to make it so that you can’t copy the content off CDs (or DVDs, or HD DVDs or Bluray DVDs).
    The thing is, if the record companies say outright that you own a licnse to the music you buy, they’ll lose out on repeat sales of the same content on new media (e.g., buying The White Album on LP, tape, CD, HD DVD, digital, etc…).
    I’m with you, Rich. I’ve ever purchased DRM music or anything from iTunes and it’s not because I don’t like to buy music.
    To be honest, I don’t think the studios and record companies are going to fold on this. The trend is toward more DRM, more restriction, ot less. The DRM (as we see with HD DVDs) is going to move such that it is integrated with the hardware.
    It’s not even that the content providerswant to be restrictive–they don’t want to restrict our access to their content. They want the ability to charge you every time you use their content.

  4. Joel Nagy

    With EMI now moving away from DRM and Universal having a deal with YouTube, I think we will see that some record labels will realize that no matter how hard they try to protect their ownership content will be pirated; and that by not punishing their real customers for purchasing content, they will see a rise in sales.


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