You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper
By patrickf on Mar 28, 2006
As I weaved through heavy traffic this morning on my bike, listening to my iPod and keying in a text message to our neighbour to tell her that I had found my spare set of bike keys, my mind started to wander.
When I first opened the iPod package, I was met by three injunctions: the succint and whimsical Enjoy, the rather more prosaic Install software before connecting iPod, and an out-and-out category mistake, Don't steal music.
Steal music? What, deprive the rightful owners of music of their property? Hardly. What it meant was "Don't duplicate digital files in a manner which contravenes local laws, laws which we are busy lobbying to have changed in a manner which will allow us to continue to make a large amout of money while adding little or no value to the process of creating music".
We were treated to a repetition of this double-speak last week when Apple tastelessly criticised France for passing legislation making closed-DRM illegal in France, in other words, Apple's lobbying didn't work out for them. Apple's response? They called it "state-sponsored piracy", echoing the phrase "state-sponsored terrorism" (in itself a circular term), and again touting the idea that people who duplicate music files are not merely sharing music with eachother, but are in fact murderous plunderers. The thing is, all you can do with music is listen to it. How can "music companies" be so anti-music? And how dare they speak about my mother like that?
The fig-leaf of respectability of suppliers of media containing music is that ultimately, artists receive royalties (a fraction of the total spent on the CD or mp3). But once a track has been recorded, Apple, Warner Bros, Sony and their ilk are superfluous to the dissemination of music. I can do it for myself, thanks. Why don't I just pay the artist directly?
Given that an open DRM standard is more likely to enforce a copyright restriction than one that is unique to Apple's devices, their claims are clearly disingenuous. As noted here, DRM is about raising barriers to entry into the digital music market.
So, what about Sun sponsoring the Open Media Commons - a royalty-free (i.e. anyone can use it without paying money to Apple or Microsoft or, heaven forbid, Sun) DRM project? Well, even our Software CTO has his reservations , and the project is excellently parodied here (although we might observe that the music lovers pictured are at least not tied to a proprietary platform). What is perhaps overlooked is that it is very important to remove the profit motive from the use of DRM, both in locking consumers in and in licensing the use of DRM itself. This does present value: if the major suppliers of mp3s and mp3 players find that selling equipment encumbered with a non-standard DRM is a competive disadvantage, why would they push it?
They may also conclude that restricting the great pleasure of music is something that only a Blue Meanie would undertake. But then the Beatles and Apple are in court again.
ps. these views are not necessarily those of my employer
Update pps. I ought to disclaim this further (following the "don't be stupid" principle) - I am an Apple customer (and a semi-happy one at that), my implication that members of my family might be described as "pirates" is not to be taken seriously and I am not making allegations that Apple's lobbying extends beyond their public condemnations. It might, I don't know. Oh, and it isn't safe to ride a bike and send text messages.