Job's DRM letter: FUD at it's best.

A few weeks ago, Steve Jobs wrote an open letter to no-one in particular, proclaiming that (loosely paraphrased), he really wished he didn’t have to put DRM on music in iTMS, but the big labels made him do it. He also said that he wished DRM schemes could be interoperable, but they can’t.

At the time, I had a rant on a mailing list, but didn’t post here. My major point to the rant was that it’s *not* the labels who force DRM on the iTMS, it’s iTMS forcing DRM on the labels.

In particular, I cited Naxos, who quite happily sell their music without DRM on emusic. Since then, various other labels have openly given Steve/Apple permission to sell their music without DRM – but Apple’s only response has been silence, and the continued forced adding of DRM to all songs they sell. So, that takes care of that phony claim.

The other major claim, that interoperable DRM is impossible, has been shown to be just as phony. The Coral Consortium have written an open letter back to Steve, in which they state that:

We have been wrestling with the issues around interoperability for some years and have concluded that it is not so much a technology problem as a business problem. We have completed the development of a suite of technical specifications for interoperability and these can be downloaded from our website, http://www.coral-interop.org/. We think that your engineers will find it very straightforward to integrate this framework into your iTunes service. This technology would enable you to interoperate immediately with Microsoft based Janus devices and services, and with OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) based devices and services. Of course the secrets in Fairplay remain safe – adopting the Coral technology does not require you to share them with anyone else.

Of course, it’s very easy to write off the Coral Consortium as being some small group making grandiose claims they can’t back up. It’s easy to assume that Apple might not have heard of them, that their technology is perhaps not quite as good as they claim, or that maybe they don’t have support from industry players. I can’t comment on any of the rest, but the latter isn’t true: their membership page lists Sony as just one “Promoter Member” of several, and EMI, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, the MPAA, the RIAA, and Sony BMG are just some of the “Contributor Members”.

So, in summary: Steve claimed that the labels force him to use DRM. Possibly true for some – but many have requested that he doesn’t put DRM on their songs, and he still does. Steve claimed that interoperable DRM isn’t possible – but not only is it possible, it has the backing of the same major record labels that Steve claims force him to use DRM.

I stand by what I wrote in that email; Steve’s letter is FUD and nothing more. Well, except maybe it’s good marketing as well.

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