My Thoughts on “Thoughts on Music”
Just yesterday, Steve Jobs posted an article to Apple’s website entitled “Thoughts on Music” which addresses DRM and why it is currently necessary for the iTunes music store. That being that the big four music companies insisted on it being used and effective (meaning that Apple must patch any holes that show up in it), or they will pull their music libraries from the iTunes store. He also addresses the issue of it being kept proprietary, and why that is a necessity. My intent is to briefly explain some of the arguments presented in that article and give my own commentary on such.
First he discounts the “lock-in” argument by showing that by the 2006 numbers, only 22 songs are purchased from the iTunes store per iPod sold, representing under 3% of the capacity of the most popular iPod (most of which he says, from research, are “nearly full”). He states, “since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.”
That being said, customers who do buy music from the iTunes store still can only play those tunes on an iPod, regardless of the numbers. Also, these numbers only represent the more popular model that was bought during 2006, and they also do not take into account previous years and what the player to music balance was during those years, as well as how many of those sales were upgrades, not new customers. However, this is slightly mitigated by the next section, which clearly explains the rationale behind being unwilling to license the FairPlay DRM technology.
Paraphrasing it really won’t do it justice, so I’m just going to quote this section:
“The second alternative is for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM technology to current and future competitors with the goal of achieving interoperability between different company’s players and music stores. On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future. And Apple might benefit by charging a small licensing fee for its FairPlay DRM. However, when we look a bit deeper, problems begin to emerge. The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute. Such leaks can rapidly result in software programs available as free downloads on the Internet which will disable the DRM protection so that formerly protected songs can be played on unauthorized players.”
This is quite true, just look at CSS, the Content Scrambling System for DVDs. Once that DRM was cracked, it spread like wildfire. CSS is practically a joke nowadays because of that. And also because of the issues brought up in the next paragraph about updates to the DRM to patch those holes. Also, it doesn’t necessarily need to be cracked from outside, an insider within a hypothetical FairPlay licensee could leak the information as well. That could be done for any number of reasons, among which are a kind of misguided vigilantism, where they feel that the DRM is oppressing people or music and they must free the oppressed from their oppressor, or even someone who is disgruntled at Apple or their employer or the like, and leaks it out of malice.
“An equally serious problem is how to quickly repair the damage caused by such a leak. A successful repair will likely involve enhancing the music store software, the music jukebox software, and the software in the players with new secrets, then transferring this updated software into the tens (or hundreds) of millions of Macs, Windows PCs and players already in use. This must all be done quickly and in a very coordinated way. Such an undertaking is very difficult when just one company controls all of the pieces. It is near impossible if multiple companies control separate pieces of the puzzle, and all of them must quickly act in concert to repair the damage from a leak.”
Here is truly the crux of the matter. As stated above, Apple has to fix any holes in the DRM in a timely manner (“a small number of weeks,” Jobs said in the article), or the music will be pulled. If they have to coordinate with all their licensees to update the software in all their software and devices… that’s nigh impossible, especially within a limited time frame.
Just look at Windows updates. There are still countless Windows machines out there without proper patches that have been made zombies by malware and such. If it is so hard to push out patches to Windows, which, though it is an operating system, is a single product, how much harder is it to get updates pushed out through all sorts of different vendors for different programs and devices utilizing a hypothetical licensed FairPlay DRM.
Not only that, but you also have the issue of the leaker still out there and depending on the nature of the leak, may be able to again leak a crack that would require yet another update. It’s much easier for Apple to track down a leaker inside of their own organization, than to try and track one down through countless licensees.
Jobs also then makes a comment that I find quite insightful and also a perspective I hadn’t thought of or heard of before on the issue of the Zune’s DRM being incompatible with PlaysForSure.
“Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies. Perhaps this same conclusion contributed to Microsoft’s recent decision to switch their emphasis from an “open” model of licensing their DRM to others to a “closed” model of offering a proprietary music store, proprietary jukebox software and proprietary players.”
There was alot of head-scratching among pundits about the Zune’s DRM being incompatible with PlaysForSure, wondering why Microsoft would be shutting out its PlaysForSure partners from the Zune. In light of that commentary from Jobs however, that certainly makes alot of sense.
This last part, however, is the part I was the most excited and happy about, and really raised my respect for Jobs. In the last part, the possibility of a world without DRM was discussed. The fact that Apple is willing to switch to DRM-free “in a heartbeat” if it can get the music companies to agree to such really shows that Jobs isn’t happy with the DRM situation either, especially since it’s not the best for consumers, but its what had to be done to appease the four big music labels.
He mentions how most of the music that the industry sells is DRM-free CDs, and that the digital music industry only measures only a small fraction of that (20 billion songs on DRM-free CDs, vs 2 billion DRMed music downloads). The only issue I had with that statement was the fact that the music companies have been trying to put “copy-protection”, aka DRM, on their music CDs as well, with little success. From issues a few years ago when DRMed CDs literally bricked the CD drives in many slot-loading Macs, to last year’s debacle with the Sony BMG DRM rootkit. The critical weakness of all these CD DRM schemes however, is the fact that they still have to present the actual music in a non DRMed form for normal CD players to be able to actually play it. As such, all these DRM schemes on CDs ultimately fail, because they can be bypassed to get at the actual music data on the CD, in the tracks other than the garbage data in the non-music sectors of the discs meant for PCs.
Overall, I was quite impressed with Jobs article and his explainations, and here’s hoping the big music companies pull their collective heads out of thier…. hiding places sometime in the forseeable future. (I’m not holding my breath.) ^_-