Sean\’s Sicily

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Who Controls Your Music?

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Here’s a small piece I wrote for an Open Uni assignment on DRM – assignment was to write 500 words to introduce DRM for a non-technical audience, giving at least 2 pro-DRM arguments and 2 anti-DRM arguments, plus a personal conclusion. Have to admit being heavily influenced by Mike at Techdirt.

Who Controls Your Music?

There are many who look on Steve Jobs as a post-modern messiah figure. The charismatic Apple boss not only tells you what you want, he is ready to give it to you in a beautifully designed Apple-embossed package. And he’s almost always on the money – iMac computers, iPod music players, iPhones – some of the biggest milestones in consumer electronics have had Steve Jobs pushing them.

So when Jobs predicts the end of digital-rights-management for music, music bosses sit up and listen. They should do – millions of people listen to their music on his products.

Jobs has a simple argument “music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none.” (Jobs, 2007). This cost with no benefit hurts iTunes, the online music shop run by Apple.

The music industry is also hurting, and the industry is blaming falling revenue on the sharing of music over the internet (IPFI Press Release, 2008). Music bosses are hoping that DRM will make it difficult to illegally copy and distribute music, forcing consumers to purchase their tracks legally. They claim that the ease with which music can be shared on the Internet is undermining the survival of the industry and the artists it supports (Variety Magazine, 2008).

Significant hurdles are in the way however – the biggest hurdle of all is that consumers are accustomed to doing what they want with their music. If DRM becomes widespread, consumers will have to change that expectation. Customers of iTunes can only play the music on a limited number of computers, and must use the iTunes application. The only compatible MP3 player is the Apple iPod. It has to be this way – how else can consumers be prevented from sharing the music with all their friends? (Jobs, 2007).

Apple also has reasons to resent DRM – it must maintain expensive infrastructure to support the DRM, and it must do so indefinitely – the web giant Yahoo shut a flagship online music-service and disabled the DRM-laden music of thousands of people who had bought from the store. (The company was forced into an embarrassing public apology and offered to replace any affected music with DRM-free copies.) (Masnick, Yahoo Offers Refunds Or DRM-Free Music In Exchange For Shutting Down DRM Servers, 2008).

Against all this, the decision by EMI is superfluous. Steve Jobs – once a supporter of DRM – seems to have decided that DRM is a white horse, and he doesn’t want to pay for it anymore. Interoperability issues mentioned by Nicoli are a smokescreen to hide a basic truth – consumers are avoiding DRM-laden services and are continuing to find their music via file-sharing or DRM-free stores.

Perhaps Jobs the super-entrepreneur, has realised that the industry is operating a fundamentally flawed business plan – artificially limiting access to an infinite resource (Masnick, 2007). Recognising that DRM is dead, Jobs is hoping that 99p for 256kps is a more attractive deal than free tracks of dubious quality.


IPFI Press Release. (2008, February). Music Market Data 2007. Retrieved August 16, 2008, from IFPI:

Jobs, S. (2007, February 7). Thoughts on Music. Retrieved August 18, 2008, from Apple:

Masnick, M. (2007, February 15). Saying You Can’t Compete With Free Is Saying You Can’t Compete Period. Retrieved August 16, 2008, from Techdirt:

Masnick, M. (2008, July 29). Yahoo Offers Refunds Or DRM-Free Music In Exchange For Shutting Down DRM Servers. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from Techdirt:

Variety Magazine. (2008, June 4). Variety. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from Variety:

Written by seancasaidhe

August 21, 2008 at 8:05 pm

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