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.”

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