Steve Jobs on DRM

07 Feb 2007|Leigh Marinner

Dropping DRM (digital rights management) protection on music makes a lot of sense, as Steve Jobs is recommending. I saw the same thing happen with copy protection on gaming and edutainment PC software in the 1980s. Consumers found it so burdensome that they invested a lot of energy in getting around the copy protection (read: downloading free MP3 music files) and in breaking the copy protection algorithms (similarly, any high school kid knows how to download music from his friend’s iPod onto his PC). And sales of PC games took off after copy protection was removed.

Consumers hate DRM, and there will be even more of a backlash as time passes and people replace their PCs and find that they’ve already used up all their permissible legal copies and they have now lost all the music they’ve purchased. Or they backup up their collection and then try to download it to a replacement PC and find it isn’t allowed.

Music owners are fighting a losing battle in supporting DRM. Digital music has introduced a new reality – digital music is freely available. And it’s easy to get around DRM by burning to a CD and then ripping it back to the PC. Only a small percentage of the music on a typical MP3 player has been purchased anyway – Jobs says 3% on an iPod.

DRM isn’t working. Sales of digital music are not growing fast enough to offset the decline in CD sales. We need to reward consumers who understand the arguments for compensating the artists or who don’t have time to wade through all the junk on the free sites– not penalize them when they buy music online.

There is a good argument that total digital music sales would increase if DRM were removed by increasing sales to those who want to be legal. People want to share music – it’s part of the meaningful consumer experience of music. Plus, it only takes a couple times of having the song you paid $0.99 for on iTunes or Rhapsody not show up on your Windows Media Player song list on your PC to decide that it’s a lot easier just to download a non-copy protected version for free.

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