Wired reports on Steve Jobs’ Open Letter where he announces Apple supports a DRM-free music distribution model. Many, including Bill Gates, have stated that DRM does not stop piracy. And some have argued that Apple benefits from DRM because it locks users into only using iPods and iTune.
Jobs acknowledged “DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.” But he does not believe users are locked into using music players from one company when they buy DRM music from that company’s online music store. He stated:
Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. Its hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.
He points out that 90 percent of songs are sold on CDs that are not DRM protected. After asserting that DRM does not appear to be good for much. Jobs states:
If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.
He concludes by asking those against DRM to focus on the convincing Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI to license music without DRM.
Will this announcement move the marketplace towards a DRM-free model? Bill Gates criticized DRM, yet Microsoft’s new music player the Zune and the Zune Marketplace operate as a closed DRM protected system much like Apple’s iPod/iTunes combination.
The governments of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands have “rebelled” in some form against Apple’s DRM system that prohibits users from playing a song downloaded from iTunes on a music player other than an iPod. It will be interesting to see if European authorities take Job’s invitation to “redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.”