So, Steve Jobs, being the kinda guy he is, has decided to post his personal thoughts on Digital Rights Management in an open letter. It’s an eye-opening read. As usual, he turns the whole thing ass-up, claiming that in fact he would rather just get rid of the DRM, while still maintaining that Apple’s DRM does not in practice tie users to their iPod since only 3% of users have DRM’d music on their machines (hmm, how to you say « bullshit » in Norwegian?). He also claims that there is healthy competition (here comes the smoke and mirrors) because other competitors (he names Sony and Microsoft) are also locking users into hardware-content configurations. So we are perfectly free to choose who locks up music that we have paid for in machines that we have also paid for, but that we do not entirely own.
But the best part comes at the end. According to Steve, it’s the record companies who have his $#&§@, because they’re scared $#@!§%§# of opening up the floodgates to illegal filesharing and are basically !§&#@%§ all over themselves. Calling them a bunch of $%#@& in public, he reminds us all that these same record companies hypocritically release non-DRM’d content through their own channels (CD’s), and that anyone can easily upload those to the Internet. In other words, stop $%§&##§ on us, start $%§&##§ on the record companies. This is the whole reason he wrote the letter, and as usual, there was a strategy: to change the dynamic in the debate and throw the ball into the laps of the record companies who indeed are pretty unsavoury characters and not really the types you’d want to meet in a dark alley (especially when they have a pen and contract in their hand).
If you haven’t been following, Apple is currently up against the wall, with Europe now on their doorstep. Lately, American businesses have been very scared of having Europe on their doorstep (see Microsoft) and seem to be listening. Since America has apparently abandoned applying the very economic model it pretends to sell to the rest of the world — namely market expansion through fair competition —, it seems that Europe now has to do the dirty work of keeping their own markets open for them (instead, America is currently embracing massive market consoldiation, especially in media markets where dominance equals delegated control while maintaining the gloss of democracy). Now it’s Apple that finds itself in Europe’s crosshairs, with Norway threatening to open up Apple’s DRM for it by the end of the year if they don’t find a solution. Norway has also been joined recently by Germany, the Netherlands, with France bringing up the rear (when they were supposed to be the ones leading this fight).
This is actually all great news. It’s good news for Apple that Europe is giving them extra leverage to go back to the negotiating table with the record companies, and it’s even greater news that Steve Jobs has gone on public record stating that Apple would remove DRM from their technology « in a heartbeat ». It looked like Apple was heading down a different path, and European public policy might just now reverse that. This also means that Apple still wants to remain a technology company, and just licence content for distribution, which is an interesting turn as well. This would make Apple a very different company than Sony, even if Steve Jobs does sit on the Disney board.
Now if Europe could get around to opening up gaming platforms, especially now that France has just passed a tax credit for game developers. I don’t mean by that that game platforms should, like cinema’s 24 frames-per-second, be technologically homogenized. I just mean that if we shouldn’t be locked into Sony-distributed music to play music on our Sony digital walkman, why should we be locked into Sony-licenced games on our Sony Playstation? Especially if, as Sony says, the Playstation is a computer, and makes us pay computer prices for it. Sounds like a Sony-tax, just like the Apple-tax Norway is trying to remove.