Even Steve does not get it

by Volker Weber

Reading Cory's talk (read/listen) about why DRM is bad for Microsoft, I struck me as odd, that even Steve does not get it. I mean, he almost gets it. He gets the rest, but he does not get the DRM part.

I recently talked about a brand new CD that would not play. Once I ripped the CD and burned the tracks back on a blank CD without the copy protection it would play. The commercial product was 20 times more expensive than the one I produced but it was much worse. For a simple reason: it breakes the technical standard. The only person who suffers is the customer who bought the product. Whoever steals the tracks is unaffected. He gets a much better deal than the honest customer. (For those concerned: Under German law I can copy the CD. Even if I give the copy to a friend.)

Steve talked a lot about why the iTMS is a better product. I have my doubts, for a simple reason. Everything you buy from iTMS is locked with a proprietary DRM. It will only play on iTunes or on an iPod. Cory explains how he got stuck without access to his music. iTMS tracks are not like a CD that will play everywhere. (Yes, you can make one.) If you get the very same track from somewhere else without the DRM, in MP3 instead of AAC, you have a better product.

So, if you buy something from iTMS, I would advise that you immediately — repeat: immediately — convert it to a better product. If you don't do that, you will feel the pain much later.


I think iTunes is a pretty good compromise between what the consumer wants and the paraniod position of the recording industry. If Steve hadn't put some form of DRM in, there wouldn't be an iTunes today.

At least Joe Public can, without downloading any hacks from obscure internet sites, create his "better product" at the click of the mouse. ITunes is a darn site more customer-friendly than any other DRM implementation that I can think of.

John, 2004-06-20

... sorry, for iTunes, read iTMS, of course.

John, 2004-06-20

I agree with John partly, but being better than other online music stores doesn't mean to be good or best...
As long as there are illegal, but "better" solutions for the customer, the legal solutions won't beat piracy!

Stefan Weigand, 2004-06-20

John, I am afraid, it takes too much housekeeping to keep your property in working condition. You need to authorize and deauthorize computers. You must not have a disk crash, and so forth.

iTMS treats the customer as a potential thief. I know it is because the recording industry treats their customers that way. I am just saying that a thief is far better off than a potential thief a.k.a. customer. That is not desirable. Steve wants to sell the better product.

What could be done? The track could be watermarked for each individual download so that a roaming copy can be traced back to the customer. The track could be in a standard format that can be played on everything. That is not the case. AAC is neither free nor licensed to anyone else. Because Steve wants to sell iPods. And he wants a customer lock-in, as much as Bill does.

Apple is caught in the same trap with iTMS as Sony is with Sony Music. Their only advantage today is that the player (both iTunes and iPod) play standard formats. If they dropped MP3 today they would be dead immediately. But who tells you that they won't do just that when enough people are sold on AAC?

Volker Weber, 2004-06-20

I guess it's a safe bet, that without "Fairplay", there would not be a iTMS in the first place. Steve is not the person that has to be evangelized here. It's Jean-Marie Messier, Howard Stringer, Roger Ames and Gunter Thielen who should be getting this. And while Cory's last chapter is fitting at a talk to MSFT, I doubt he would give AAPL the same advice. AAPL's legal war chest is not deep enough to fight the majors.

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