Scott's Viewport

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mandatory Licensing of Digital Rights Management Technology


I think the French have taken an important step in protecting the freedoms of digital media consumers in this millenium by drafting a law requiring the sharing of DRM technologies between companies that sell media and media players.

Although an advocate of open source and Creative Commons copyright, I am not one who buys into the fundamentalist arguments of the libre information crowd. Just as I'm comfortable having password restricted access to my own personal information, I am comfortable entering into an agreement with a provider of entertainment media to not redistribute their work product globally. I feel differently about scientific facts and works of nature, but that is for another blog another day...

But I would go so far as to say it is not in anybody's interest for Apple to oppose the proposed French law (the opposite of what Apple said in their recent quarterly report), not Apple, not the artists, and certainly not the public. Allowing Apple to restrict the use of their FairPlay DRM to iPods harms Apple, because it keeps them from selling songs and videos to owners of competive players. By untying the iPod from iTunes they could have two de-facto monopolies the public would grant based on merit. Until they do that the public will always look for a way out, for a choice.

The iTunes/iPod tying is bad for the artists as well, because now every song bought on iTunes that makes its way to a Creative (or other) player is cleansed of its DRM via burning to a CD. Why is that helpful?

And finally it is simply not in the public's interest to have purchased digital content restricted to players made by one company. What if Apple stops selling iPods at some time in the future, and starts requiring everyone to use a hand-held Mac to listen to their music? I thought I was purchasing music, not a software application restricted to Apple hardware.

I'm sure there are quality-of-service concerns and technical barriers to licensing out FairPlay to 3rd parties. But FairPlay is in no way similar to an Apple operating system, and the justification used to rule out Mac clones does not fly in the case of digital content in standard forms.

You might say Apple doesn't really care about selling music, they're a hardware company. But for a hardware company to generate 50% of their revenue from selling music is quite notable, no matter how thin the margin. And I'm sure there is a margin. Time for Apple to think different.

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