Commentary—Macworld 2008: The Week That Copy-Protection DRM Dies?

Apple's CEO's wish that it be so.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of Apple, the company's CEO, Steve Jobs—who will deliver the keynote at noon EST Tuesday—has a knack for knowing what's next. And he started the unprotected audio file move several months ago, with the announcement that EMI was going to sell higher-quality audio files on the iTunes store that weren't protected by FairPlay, Apple's proprietary DRM scheme. Well, almost not protected, as those who buy the non-DRM content still have to put in their Apple ID to play the content on a new or updated machine.

The question of the RIAA as an ongoing concern.
EMI, who was rightly noted as having financial troubles around the time it teamed with Apple to go DRM-free, is considering drastic measures to save itself. One of the measures is a significant layoff of staff, with some reports saying 2,000 of the 5,500 EMI jobs are in jeopardy. Another measure, though, is getting some attention: EMI's potential decision to end its funding of the RIAA puts the future of the music label watchdog (or pitbull, as many hapless users against whom the RIAA has filed suit might tend to call it) in doubt.

The general consensus that DRM costs more goodwill than benefit it provides to consumers.
At CES last week, a very interesting panel took place. Called "The True Cost of DRM" this panel was interesting enough that I requested a audio copy of it (in unprotected MP3 of course) since it spelled out some very interesting issues surrounding DRM.

One of the best quotes was from Ian Rogers, who is Yahoo! Music's general manager.

"When it comes to music, we're set [done with DRM]," said Rogers, adding that the next question is "do we have to go through all of this nonsense with video?"

Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a legal defense organization which recently filed a "friend of the court" brief in Atlantic v Howard (a case in which the RIAA is now arguing that copying purchased CDs to a computer constitutes piracy) struck back at the notion of DRM not being about piracy.

"It's about controlling competition and eliminating disruptive innovation," said von Lohmann. "If you want to play my content, I get to tell you how to build your player."

Various legislative moves across the world.
Now that Sweden's legislature has decided that peer-to-peer is a legitimate form of transport and audio/video sharing, it's moving towards a DRM-free scenario. But as with anything that comes out of regional governments, the European Union is taking a slightly different stance.

"Europe's content sector is suffering . . . under its lack of clear, consumer-friendly rules for accessing copyright-protected online content," said European Commission commissioner for information society and media Viviane Reding, "and serious disagreements between stakeholders about fundamental issues such as levies and private copying." the European Commission is set to recommend a single DRM scheme by mid- 2008 to strengthen Europe's film, music and gaming industries.

In summary, and guessing that Apple's CEO will probably announce a movie-rental or purchase program that still holds DRM as a key element, I predict that Apple will move to rid its audio files of DRM within the next six months—and announce its intentions at today's keynote.

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