‘Beleagured’ Apple should nix iTunes Fairplay

MacBook heat problems, Norwegian law courts, patent tussles with Creative, and lost court cases against bloggers,— too many more new stories like that and the dreaded ‘b’ word will start to appear in news headlines about Apple (I used it here as a joke, by the way).

In terms of news value, the MacBook teething troubles may merit little more than a line or two in the mainstream media, but every story about iTunes or the iPod seems to make headlines. And Apple could really do with some positive ones for a change. Which is why now is the perfect time to kill the Fairplay DRM, or at least the parts of it which prevent iTunes downloads being played on any music player other than an iPod (yes, I know you can burn them to CD and then re-rip, but that’s hardly the point).

I’m not opposed to DRM in principal, there are good reasons for it. Record companies and artists would be unlikely to give their blessing to any system that allowed downloads to be shared and copied without restriction. However, the elements of Fariplay which prevent iTunes downloads being played on any other kit than that made by Apple are indefensible. Sure, they make commercial sense — why let customers choose their own MP3 player when you can corral them into buying an iPod? But even that’s no longer a compelling argument. Does anyone really think that if Apple lets Creative or iRiver owners play iTunes downloads on their players that millions of us will suddenly swap our iPods for inferior devices?

Ethically and morally there is no debate. It’s wrong, plain and simple. If I pay 79p or 99 cents for a track, it chould be my choice how I listen to it, not Apple’s or the record companies. Even worse, if I want to stream music around my house using an Elgato EyeHome, Roku Soundbridge, or any other third party device, I can’t listen to iTunes downloads — despite the fact that Apple’s only possible competitor to these products is AirPort Express, which pales by comparison to other music streaming kit.

Apple, I believe, has absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain by opening up Fairplay, and allowing iTunes downloads to be played on any piece of kit their owner chooses. How about it, Steve?

13 Responses to “‘Beleagured’ Apple should nix iTunes Fairplay”

  1. Larry Says:

    Oh bullshit. iTunes and the iPod are a package. Microsloth could have easily created the same type of system, and perhaps if they had, they’d be sitting in the catbird’s seat today. The iTunes store was created as a service for iPod owners from the beginning. Just because it’s so successful now is no excuse for the LOSERS to cry that they can’t use it with their cheapo mp3 players, that were stagnant until Apple got it right.

  2. Chris Says:

    The real question is how much leverage the record companies have over Apple. Let’s face it, they have no problem double charging for content (think of all the people that bought their music in vinyl, and then had to re-purchase it on CD). I have no doubt that some of the restrictions in FairPlay are there at the insistence of the Majors as opposed to Apple.

    The bigger problem is the use of AAC. Even if you strip out the DRM, not many players support AAC, apart from Apple’s iPod and, within the last few weeks, Sony. Most of the other players just don’t support the format, the same way that Apple and Sony don’t embrace WMA. AAC is proprietary to Dolby and WMA is proprietary to Microsoft. In the end, only an agreement on a joint, open source standard, such as ogg, will really solve the true interoperability issues that are present across ALL the download services.

  3. mac4xpd Says:

    You miss my point. I don’t give a hoot about owners of other MP3 players - although I would like to be able to stream music I’ve paid for to other rooms in my house using kit I’ve chosen.

    My main point is that it would be good for Apple from a PR point of view and there is virtually no downs side.

  4. zato Says:

    “Which is why now is the perfect time to kill the Fairplay DRM, or at least the parts of it which prevent iTunes downloads being played on any music player other than an iPod”

    I don’t think the European complaints are about whether any media player can play iTunes content, the’re about whether Euro O/L music stores can sell content for iPods. This is something Apple definitely doesn’t want. Once there are large numbers of sucessful stores, Apples strong negotiating position is lost. The RIAA and labels will be back in power.

  5. mac4xpd Says:

    European download stores can sell content for iPods - as long as it’s MP3 or AAC.

  6. Jim B Says:

    Only people inside Apple know if FairPlay DRM is part of a strategy to limit the use of music to ipods and other apple hardware OR it is just the DRM that Apple has chosen because record labels won’t distribute music online with some DRM.

    Remember Apple has fought to increase the usage right in FairPlay vs Microsofts DRM, which allows for multiple levels of restrictions. If you remember the buymusic store, newer songs had different restrictions then older songs etc. It is only Apple that has stood up and fought for the rights of the consumer and said, that model is too complicated, all the music no matter what should have the same rights.

  7. Al Says:

    The Major Labels demanded that all music files sold over the internet include DRM. The Major Labels Approved Microsoft’s, Sony’s and Apple’s method of DRM before any online store could sell any Major Label’s products.

    Just this spring The Major Labels reaffirmed Apple’s DRM when the renewed Apple’s distribution contracts with no changes.

    The Major Labels are responsible for Apple’s DRM and only The Major Labels can change Apple’s DRM.

    Apple has decided not to license OS X to other PC manufacturers. Similarly Apple has decided not to license their DRM scheme or iTunes, for that matter, to other MP3 player manufacturers. Both are business decisions that only Apple’s shareholders can change.

    European courts will get nowhere with their objections. If you want changes, buy a share and bring it up at the next shareholders meeting.

  8. Doug Petrosky Says:

    No, you don’t get it. To allow iTunes music to play on all other DRM players, Apple would have to support WMA. WMA is not free, it is owned by microsoft so Apple would have to pay MS a small amount for each song and all iPods would need to be able to play WMA which means they would have to pay a much larger amount for each iPod that exists but even that is not all. Apple would have to license WMA DRM for iTunes (for OS X only I think) and pay for every Mac user who downloads the software.

    This would be a hugely stupid move by apple because even if they dominate the market with this. 5 years from now Microsoft can change the licensing fees and take more for each song and each future player.

    On the other hand they could license FairPlay to at least one more MP3 player manufacture. Personally I think the best would be Sony and get sony to agree to support Fairplay TV on the PSP as well. This combination would make WMA DRM a footnote in computer history IMHO.

    As for the guy who said that AAC is propritary to Dolby..You are wrong. AAC is part of Mpeg 4 and is licensed from MpegLA. This is the same standards body that created Mpeg 1 (MP3 audio) and Mpeg2 (DVD’s).

  9. jbelkin Says:

    Apple cannot sell any music tracks without approval of the record labels.

    You already forgot your history. 5 years ago when Apple launched the ipod, the general consensus was me’h. It’s nice but it’s not much of a market … after all, Creative had been in the marlet 2 years already …

    Same with the itunes store that launched 12-18 months later … it was considered a nice sideline - analysts were surprised when Apple sold a million tracks but NO ONE really thought it would amount to much versus CD’s and “free.” Now, a billion+ tracks later, people start complaining about “Apple’s DRM” when it’s really the DRM part that the record labels insisted on.

    Steve Jobs said that it took a year of negotiating and part of that was the most CONSUMER FRIENDLY DRM of them all - yes, that’s right …

    thanks to Apple, only digital audio LEGALLY allows you to load it onto as many ipods as you want or play back on 5 computers AND burn it to a CD so it’s DRM free. In return, Apple made it hard to get off your ipod and added a DRM.

    Do I like any DRM? No. But it’s upfront and it’s like a 2-foot fence - it’s not like DVD’s where I have to use an illegal app to rip it or eBooks to hack the PDf open … thanks to Apple, it’s LEGAL to DRM free your tracks with a CD-R and a click.

    You are right to loath or fight against DRM but you have to attack the right source, the record companies who made Apple put it there in the first place!

  10. Arden Says:

    I don’t get it. If the ipod stayed as a Mac only product no one would be complaining. But the fact that it’s Mac and PC compatible everyone wants to knock it down because they have the majority of the market.
    Since iPod users make up roughly about 80% of the market why can’t we all join forces and launch a lawsuit against the competition to make them open up there DRM’d music stores. I still wouldn’t buy my Music from them.
    As far as I know most of them are not even Mac compatible.
    So how can they say that iTunes and the iPod are closed systems.
    Last time I checked my PC using friends were using iPods with iTunes.
    Me being a Mac user what player and store combination can I use that’s compatible with my Mac? (besides iTunes)
    MS/MTV Urge. Not.

  11. Heart_Man_2000 Says:

    I cannot say it any better than jbelkin. He really nailed the actual issue.

  12. mac4xpd Says:

    Yes, of course the record companies insisted on DRM to limit the way in which downloaded tunes can be shared and copied. However, the chairman of the BPI (the body which represents UK record companies) told MPs on the UK House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media, and Sport this week that Apple should ‘opt for interoperability’. So it seems that it isn’t the record companies standing in the way of changing the iTunes DRM.

    Doug, Apple wouldn’t have to support WMA to make iTunes downloads interoperable. All MP3 players can play - guess what? - MP3 files. Like I said, I’m not advocating the removal of DRM, just a change to the way it works. The music downloads market has changed a great deal in the last few years and will change even more in the next few. Apple has to change with it.

  13. rwahrens Says:

    No, Apple DOES NOT have to change with these demands! In this case, the market does not change, as much as Apple makes it change. That’s the power of a monopoly, which, in this market, with 80%+ market share, Apple is.

    At this point, Apple is in danger of somebody (a government somewhere) filing a monopoly case against Apple vis-a-vie the music downloads market. Such a case could result in a judgement against Apple as a monopoly that could force them to change their business model.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind the DRM Apple uses, such as it is. I DO think its somewhat restrictive, but, like mentioned above, that’s on the RIAA, not Apple. I buy my tunes on the ITMS, and don’t have any issues, given my way of listening. Bowing to the demands of the RIAA was the only way Apple had to start the ITMS in the first place, but now that Apple has 80%+ of the market, the shoe’s on the other foot, and Apple is in the catbird seat, not the RIAA.

    As for competitors, as far as Apple is concerned, they can go pound sand. That’s a typical monopolist’s view, and it’ll stay that way until someone forces them to change.

Leave a Reply