RealTime IT News

An Apple Flip-Flop on FairPlay?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is calling for music labels to stop selling music encrypted with digital rights management software (DRM). It's a drastic reversal from a position Apple declared in public statements less then a year ago.

"Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats," Jobs said in an essay posted to Apple's Web site yesterday.

"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."

Only the big four music labels -- Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony BMG and Universal -- are keeping this world from reality, Jobs wrote.

He said that when Apple approached these companies to sell their music through iTunes, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. To prevent such piracy, Apple created a DRM system called FairPlay, which prevents music from playing on unauthorized devices.

Until today, Jobs and Apple have expressed confidence in FairPlay's ability to thwart music pirates. When the French government declared it an inalienable human right to be able to play any digital music file on any digital music player and subsequently sought to force Apple to open its FairPlay format, Apple balked.

The company warned that "Legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers." Apple even accused France of "state-sponsored piracy."

Now, Jobs maintains that DRMs "haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy." He argues that music ripped from DRM-free CDs account for most of the world's music piracy, making DRM only good for preventing customers from using their music how they want.

If Europeans are "unhappy with the current situation," Jobs wrote, they "should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free."

EMI Group spokesman Adam Grossberg agreed that the DRM solution isn't perfect.

"The lack of inter-operability between digital devices and platforms is becoming a real issue for consumers," Grossberg told internetnews.com.

As a result, he said EMI has been experimenting with new ways to distribute and sell DRM-free music. He cited a recent effort involving Norah Jones and Yahoo music.

"Feedback has been positive."