Music wants to be free
Feb 8th 2007
From The Economist print edition
Everyone will benefit if digital music is sold without copy-protection
IT IS not often that the company that dominates an industry, and is thus most wedded to the status quo, calls for the rules that govern the business to be changed. But that is what happened this week when Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple—which dominates digital music with its iPod music-player and iTunes music-store—published an essay on his firm’s website under the unassuming title “Thoughts on Music”.
一家处于行业霸主地位的公司通常是最想保持现状的，所以我们很少见到一位行业霸主呼吁改变行业规则。但以iPod数字音乐播放器称霸数字音乐领域的苹果电脑上周就这么做了－－苹果总裁斯蒂夫.钱伯斯（ Steve Jobs）上周在公司网站上发表了一篇名字平实的文章，叫《关于音乐的一些思考》。
At issue is digital rights management (DRM)—the technology guarding downloaded music against theft. Since there is no common DRM standard, songs purchased for one type of music player may not work on another. Apple’s DRM system, called FairPlay, is the most widespread.
问题的焦点是数字版权管理（DRM, Digital Rights Management），即网上下载音乐的反盗版技术。由于现在并无一个共同的数字版权管理标准，所以为这种音乐播放器购买的歌曲可能在另一种播放器上就听不了。苹果的数字版权管理系统叫FairPlay ，应用最为广泛。
European regulators have been gunning for Apple. They regard its refusal to license FairPlay as monopolistic. Since music from the iTunes store cannot be played on non-iPod music-players (at least not without a lot of fiddling), any iTunes buyer will be deterred from switching to a rival device. Last year, French lawmakers drafted a bill compelling Apple to open up FairPlay to rivals.
In the past, Apple has supported DRM on the grounds that it kept the pirates at bay. It described the French bill as “state-sponsored piracy”. But this week Mr Jobs gave an alternative explanation for defending DRM: the record companies’ demands. They agreed to make their music available to iTunes only if Apple agreed to protect it using DRM; indeed, they can still withdraw it if the DRM system is compromised. Apple cannot license FairPlay to others, says Mr Jobs, because it would depend on them to produce security fixes promptly. So, he suggests, why not do away with DRM and sell music unprotected? “This is clearly the best alternative for consumers,” he declares, “and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.”
Why the sudden change of heart? Mr Jobs is presumably keen to get Europe’s regulators off his back. Rather than complaining to Apple about its use of DRM, he suggests, “those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.” Two and a half of the four big record companies, he helpfully points out, are European-owned.
Rhythm and dues
But, politics aside, getting rid of DRM would probably be good for Apple. It can afford to embrace open competition in music players and online stores. Consumers would gravitate to the best player and the best store, and at the moment that means Apple’s. Mr Jobs is unfazed by rivals to the iPod: he notes that, since only 3% of the music in a typical iTunes library is protected, most of it can already be used on other players today. So Apple’s dominance evidently depends far more on branding and ease of use than on DRM-related “lock-in”.
It would probably be good for everybody else, too. Consumers would benefit because all music and all devices would become compatible. Record companies worry about piracy; but most of the music they sell is still on CDs—a far bigger source of piracy than the internet—and they would benefit from higher sales that greater compatibility would bring. Lots of small labels already sell DRM-free music, and some of the giants are trying it out. Which may be another reason for Mr Jobs’s change of heart: having seen which way the wind is blowing, he wants to be regarded not as a defender of DRM, but as a consumer champion who helped bring it down.