If we had tried to invent a scenario that would illustrate some of the reasons why we need DMCA exemptions for cell phone "jailbreaking," we could not have come up with a better story than Trent Reznor's recent troubles with Apple's iPhone app store.
Reznor, front man for the band Nine Inch Nails and an innovator in the world of digital music, had the latest version of his Nine Inch Nails-themed application for the iPhone rejected by Apple on the grounds that it contained "objectionable content" — the content in this case being a streaming version of the song "The Downward Spiral," which includes Reznor's usual strong language.
Reznor posted a message about the snafu on a NIN message board:
And while we're at it, I'll voice the same issue I had with Wal-Mart years ago, which is a matter of consistency and hypocrisy. Wal-Mart went on a rampage years ago insisting all music they carry be censored of all profanity and "clean" versions be made for them to carry. Bands (including Nirvana) tripped over themselves editing out words, changing album art, etc to meet Wal-Mart's standards of decency — because Wal-Mart sells a lot of records. NIN refused, and you'll notice a pretty empty NIN section at any Wal-Mart.
Actually, it's worse than that. If a customer is unhappy with the limited options at Wal-Mart, she can easily go across the street to another store with a better selection. But in this case, a customer wanting access to uncensored content for her iPhone would have no where else to go, thanks to Apple's policy of locking up the iPhone and blocking all unapproved applications. It's as if Wal-Mart was the only place to buy music.
Or, to use another analogy, imagine buying a car from a dealership. The dealer will probably find all sorts of ways to get more money out of you, but they won't be able to dictate where you drive once you buy the car, or what gas you put it in, or what you listen to on the car stereo. But then Apple hasn't launched it's new iCar yet.
Now, Apple certainly has the right to sell whatever they like through their store (even if it is more than a little absurd for Apple to censor a song they are currently selling, dirty words and all, through their iTunes store). And many iPhone customers may be perfectly happy with the 35,000 applications that have been approved by Apple in the App Store. But the point is that customers who are not satisfied with Apple's inventory should have the option to take their business elsewhere.
As we've pointed out many times in the past, the DRM that Apple uses to lock up content isn't about protecting artists from piracy: it's about protecting Apple from competition.