Jobs's Music Proposal Rebuffed

Apple's Steve Jobs argues that, without digital rights software, consumers would be able to buy music from any vendor and play it on any device.
Apple's Steve Jobs argues that, without digital rights software, consumers would be able to buy music from any vendor and play it on any device. (By David Paul Morris -- Getty Images)
By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007

The recording industry is beginning to respond to a proposal made this week by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs calling for an open music system that would allow songs to be played on any device.

The answer, so far, is no.

Edgar Bronfman Jr., chief executive of the Warner Music Group, said in a conference call with analysts yesterday that Jobs's stance is "completely without logic or merit."

"We advocate the continued . . . protection of our and our artists' intellectual property," Bronfman said.

Jobs's letter, which was posted on Apple's Web site Tuesday, has sparked a broad conversation about the business of digital music and renewed interest in the measures that have so far limited consumers' options. Today, music purchased on Apple's iTunes store, for example, can be played only on iPod players, while music purchased elsewhere on the Internet is not playable on the iPod, the dominant digital music player on the market.

Jobs argues that without digital rights management, or DRM, software that employs these controls, consumers would be able to buy tracks from any online music store and play them on any digital music device, just as DVDs purchased or rented from any store can be read by any DVD player, regardless of the manufacturer.

"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers," he wrote.

Bronfman attacked the assertion that anti-piracy technology was the reason that iTunes music will not play on anything but an iPod. "The issue is obscured by asserting that DRM and interoperability is the same thing. They are not. To suggest that they cannot co-exist is simply incorrect."

Jobs also suggested that Apple might consider licensing its technology to competitors to help loosen the ties between online music stores and digital players, an idea that the Recording Industry Association of America prefers over the elimination of the protection software.

"We don't think that a wholesale abandonment of DRM is necessary," said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the RIAA. "I think you'll see some experimentation, but that's a lot different from a policy saying 'forget it.' "

Phil Leigh, senior analyst and president of Inside Digital Media, said he believed the two sides needed to come together to compromise on the use of software intended to curb music piracy. Jobs asserted in his letter that the software had not been effective at stopping piracy, which continues on Internet file-sharing sites.

Leigh suggested that music publishers test the waters by stripping tracks that appeal to older audiences, as they are less likely to use file-sharing sites to trade music illegally.

"There's a number of ways to negotiate this transition," he said. "You don't have to flip the switch all at once."

Apple did not return calls seeking comment.

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