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Jobs: Apple Won't License FairPlay DRM

In a rare public Web posting, Apple Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs said his company would embrace "wholeheartedly" a move to eliminate all copy protection on digital music but will not license the proprietary FairPlay digital rights management software used on its iTunes service and iPod MP3 players.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a rare Web posting, Apple Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs said his company would embrace "wholeheartedly" a move to eliminate all copy protection on digital music but will not license the proprietary FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) software used on its iTunes service and iPod MP3 players.

Apple posted the nearly 2,000-word opinion piece from Jobs on Tuesday (Feb. 6). The company has come under increasing fire from government and consumer groups over FairPlay, especially in Europe. Groups in France, Germany and Scandinavia want Apple to license FairPlay so that competing MP3 makers can play songs bought on iTunes and Apple iPod users can access songs purchased on other music services.

"Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free," Jobs wrote. "For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard," he added.

Increasingly, consumer electronics companies have called for both Apple and Microsoft to open up their market-dominating DRMs to create better interoperability and a wider set of competing products. A group of consumer companies have created the Coral Consortium to define a means to share content protected by competing DRMs such as FairPlay

Jobs argued licensing FairPlay was not viable because it would make it more likely the ever-changing cryptographic keys in the DRM would be compromised, creating leaks that could not be quickly plugged with an expanded set of companies.

Jobs revealed that one part of Apple's contracts with music studios requires the company to update its iTunes and iPod software within "a small number of weeks" if it is compromised. Jobs said the company has had "a few breaches in FairPlay" but they were repaired with software updates.

"Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies," Job wrote.

Market watchers noted that if Apple licensed FairPlay the move could also erode the margins Apple is able to charge for its iPods. The average selling price of iPods slipped a few percentage points according to Apple's latest quarterly financial report.

Turning the spotlight on the studios, Jobs said the vast majority of digital music sold is in an unprotected form. Much of that is on unprotected CDs from the studios themselves, he noted.

"Under 3 percent of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM," Jobs wrote.