Apple chief for rights-free music

Steve Jobs blames major record labels for technology that limits consumer choice.

    Apple's "FairPlay" software prevents music from  iTunes being transferred to other portable players [GALLO/GETTY]

    Jobs, who has been keen to establish Apple's Mac computers as more "consumer-friendly" than Microsoft's PCs, has previously come under criticism from consumer rights organisations.
    Groups in Germany, France, Norway and the Netherlands have lodged complaints against Apple, citing iTunes' incompatibility with other music players.
    "The cool guy"
    Chris Castle, a music rights lawyer, said that Europeans are "painting [Jobs] out to be as bad as Bill Gates [Microsoft's CEO] and that is not exactly what he wants. Steve is used to being seen as a the cool guy."
    Apple's DRM technology is known as "FairPlay" and prevents music sold through Apple's iTunes store from being transferred to portable players other than Apple's iPod. It also prevents the iPod from playing music bought from other companies' online stores.
    But in his essay, called "Thoughts on Music", Jobs puts the blame on the big music companies.
    Universal Music Group, EMI, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group are the world's four largest music labels, distributing more than 70 per cent of the world's music.
    Job's said the recording labels' anti-piracy rules were the reason for the DRM software and he suggested consumers call on the music companies to sell their online catalogs without the DRM restrictions.
    "Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace," Jobs wrote. "Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly."
    A more flexible system
    Supporters are keen for Jobs to leverage Apple's growing clout as one of the world's largest music sellers in an attempt to remove restrictions that annoy many consumers.
    Jobs said that, without DRM safeguards, Apple would be able to create a more flexible system that would allow iTunes music to work on other devices, such as Microsoft's recently introduced Zune.

    "It's great PR and a nice way to turn the tables, but it's not really working toward a solution"

    Mike Bebel,
    CEO, Ruckus Networks

    But critics have said Jobs is only attempting to soften a recent backlash in Europe, where iTunes' incompatibility with other portable music devices besides the iPod has been branded has anticompetitive.
    Mike Bebel, chief executive of Ruckus Networks, a service that offers more than over two million DRM-protected song titles to college students, said that Jobs "could open that platform up tomorrow if he really wanted to".
    He said: "It's great PR [for Jobs] and a nice way to turn the tables, but it's not really working toward a solution."
    Critics also point out that if Apple were to license its FairPlay technology to other suppliers it would require sensitive secrets to be shared.
    But in his posting Jobs wrote that "history tells us those secrets will leak. The internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can spread worldwide in less than a minute."
    The popularity of the iPod has meant Apple accounts for about 70 per cent of the portable players market in the US.
    The tremendous reach of the iTunes store may make it difficult for the music industry to ignore Jobs, but many believe Apple's dominant position means it has no real interest in making music sold through the iTunes store available to other players.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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