Steve Jobs surprised many with his rather frank open letter on DRM. Apple has come under fire for its FairPlay DRM scheme which is used on its iTunes music downloads and is only compatible with iPod music players.
Jobs made the case for completely doing away with DRM citing that when it comes to your average iPod "97 percent of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. It’s 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."
Jobs also argued that the record industry has no problems selling DRM-free music CDs to customers, so why should online downloads be burdened with protection. "In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior."
Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, responded to Jobs' rant by saying that a DRM-free environment is not the answer. In fact, Bainwol sided with European countries that are currently pressuring Apple to instead open up its FairPlay DRM system to competitors.
"We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen," said Bainwol.
Bainwol isn't the only one skeptical of Jobs' intentions and the feasibility of a DRM-free music download environment. Jon Lech Johansen has already taken issue with Jobs' reasoning for keeping FairPlay closed to competitors. "Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM 10 (marketing name PlaysForSure) has not had more security breaches than FairPlay despite the fact that it has been licensed to dozens of companies," said Johansen.
SanDisk CEO Eli Harari decided to also chime in on DRM following Jobs' much publicized rant. Harari made a slightly veiled attack on Apple's FairPlay in his own open letter. "Proprietary systems, in short, aren’t acceptable to consumers. In recent months, there has been a rising chorus of complaints in Europe about the anti-competitive nature of closed formats that tie music purchased from one company to that company’s devices, and tie that company’s devices to its music service," said Harari.
"SanDisk is already offering an alternative with its Sansa line of MP3 players, which connect to many major online music stores, including Rhapsody, Napster, URGE, Yahoo! Music, emusic and Best Buy Digital Music Store. Users purchasing songs from those services can also play them on many non-SanDisk devices. SanDisk and our partners have full support from the four major music companies, and we believe our offering is no less secure than closed systems," Harari continued.
Harari also offered up this bit of advice; "What’s more, the decision on using digital rights management (DRM) should rest with the music industry, not with device makers."