Today, Apple's Steve Jobs publicly threw down this gauntlet: "If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store... Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly."
Why should the labels listen?
- DRM is bad for consumers: "[A] world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats ... is clearly the best alternative for consumers."
- DRM is bad for innovation: "If [DRM] requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players."
- DRM is bad for artists: "So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free [as audio CDs], what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none.... [More innovation in stores and players spurred by DRM-free downloads] can only be seen as a positive by the music companies."
Jobs isn't the only music service provider to invite an end to music download DRM -- Yahoo!'s Dave Goldberg has long urged the labels to remove the restrictions, and Real's Rob Glaser said last month that "DRM-free purchases is an idea in ascendance and whose time has come."
We agree wholeheartedly with Jobs, since EFF has been making exactly the same points for several years now. As a first step in putting his music store where his mouth is, we urge him to take immediate steps to remove the DRM on the independent label content in the iTunes Store. Why wait for the major record labels? Many independent labels and artists already recognize that DRM is a dumb idea for digital music, as demonstrated by the availability of their music on eMusic. Apple should let them make that music available without DRM in the iTunes Store now.
There are also bigger lessons here for policymakers. The harm done by DRM could be reduced by reforming the DMCA to allow the evasion of DRM for lawful purposes. Moreover, Jobs' remarks are another reason for policymakers to reject proposed government DRM mandates, which would only serve to further harm innovation, consumers, and artists. Clearly what's needed in the digital music world is less, not more, DRM.