Apple's Jobs Argues Against Song Protections

Apple CEO Steve Jobs wants the music industry to get rid of digital rights management, or the software locks that prevent unauthorized copying or sharing of song and video files. But music and movie companies argue the technology prevents piracy.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

Coming up, a profile of the queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J. Blige. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

First, if you're buying Mary J. Blige through the iTunes music store or other big online sellers, the songs come with an invisible piracy shield called Digital Rights Management - DRM. This is a software lock so you can't copy the song and pass it on. Now, this from Steve Jobs of Apple: free the music, get rid of DRM, he says in a post yesterday at the Apple site. It's getting a lot of attention in the dig world.

DAY TO DAY tech contributor Xeni Jardin is here. Xeni, why does Steve Jobs say get rid of DRM?

XENI JARDIN: Well, the argument is that without DRM, there would be less consumer confusion, because there wouldn't be these different competing sets of locks. And Apple could sell more music and the record companies could sell more music, and in theory, everybody would be happy.

CHADWICK: There are different locks, and they do complicate things. So, for instance, you can't buy a song from another site and put it on your iPod because the locks don't work.

JARDIN: It's becoming increasingly frustrating for consumers, and actually, Apple's received a lot of criticism over the fact that their proprietary DRM scheme - it's called FairPlay - they won't open that up to other developers so that they can develop things around that.

CHADWICK: Okay. Well, he's Steve Jobs and Apple is - far and away - the biggest online music seller through iTunes. How has the record industry responded to this? What are they saying to him?

JARDIN: Well, you know, yesterday was kind of a big day of shock for both the anti-DRM advocates and the record labels. One response that I read from a spokesperson from EMI - one of the big four labels - you know, they're acknowledging that DRM creates confusion for consumers. And look, they're in the business of selling as many songs as possible. It seems like everybody is beginning to catch on more and more to the idea that this could be good for business, but nobody wants to be the first out of the gate to take that risk.

CHADWICK: But isn't the whole DRM thing - isn't that to protect these music sellers from having people copy their artists' songs and pass them on? I mean, isn't this basically how they make money? Why would they ever give this up?

JARDIN: Well, the counter-argument that Jobs put forth is that most music that's sold - I mean, when you're talking about both online and offline - is still sold on CDs, and CDs aren't DRM protected. You know, a lot of the music that people are listening to on their iPods are ripped from CDs that they've bought.

And then the issue is just when you make a purchase, you ought to be able to enjoy that song on any device, in any situation that you want - that music consumers aren't by default thieves.

CHADWICK: But that's exactly it. The industry is afraid they are thieves, or they would be thieves if they could be. This whole DRM thing has come up precisely to stop people from buying a song once for 99 cents and then e-mailing it to all their friends.

JARDIN: Well, it really does require a shift in the way you think about online music sales. But already, some companies are making money selling DRM-free music. For instance, Yahoo has been offering some tracks from big artists - I mean, Norah Jones, Jessica Simpson - as MP3s. No digital rights protection there.

Also, a company called eMusic has some 2 million MP3s in their catalog that you can buy DRM-free. And, you know, independent artists who embrace MP3's, open formats, like, for instance, the Barenaked Ladies. They'd say we're delighted, and let us know when we can start selling our music through iTunes without copy protection. So a lot of artists feel differently about this than the heads of the labels might.

CHADWICK: How would my life as a music buyer - as a music listener be different if this happen?

JARDIN: You'd be able to buy a song. You could play it on your Zune. You could play it on your iPod. You could share that with a friend the way that you might loan a vinyl record or a CD to them, to listen to a song that meant something to you.

CHADWICK: Tell me this. If Mr. Jobs is so enamored of getting rid of this digital locks, Apple is about to release its new software called Leopard next month.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JARDIN: Right.

CHADWICK: Is Mr. Jobs going to allow me to buy one copy of this software and then have anyone who wants to copy it?

JARDIN: That would be a question for Steve Jobs. This essay was just called thoughts on music, not thoughts on the next edition of our software. But, you know, a lot of the critics of this essay yesterday said, hey. You're putting the onus on the music providers. Look, if you made the choice to force this issue, the content providers would be forced to comply, so it's going to be a chicken-and-egg situation. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

CHADWICK: Xeni Jardin, DAY TO DAY's regular tech contributor, also co-editor of the blog, Boing Boing, and that is at BoingBoing.net. Xeni, thanks again.

JARDIN: Thank you, Alex.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: And you can find all of Xeni's reports as a podcast on iTunes or on our Web site, npr.org.

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