Thursday, February 8, 2007

An Apple A Day

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in the process of switching from a PC to a Mac. I'm currently composing this on my brand-spankin-new MacBook and all that's left to do is transfer my useable data from my old machine to this one. Right now is my homepage, and will likely continue to be for some time as I'm just too lazy to change it. Although after reading this column from Steve Jobs yesterday, I think I might just leave it there indefinitely.

In light of the obvious success of the iPod and iTunes music store, Mr. Jobs took time to talk about what possible directions online music distributing could take in the near future, paying special attention to the issue of music piracy and it's current "nemesis", DRM (digital rights management). Mr. Jobs presented 3 possible scenarios:

Option 1: Steady as she goes.
Each manufacturer continues with the current setup of individual methods of copy-protection ensuring that the music they sell only works with their products. I don't know about you, but I can't see this working as a permanent solution. Without interoperability, consumer interest will either die out or revert right back to illegal sources.

Option 2: Share and share alike
Apple and other manufacturers license their DRM technology to each other in an attempt to achieve the aforementioned interoperability. Sounds good, but Mr. Jobs is quick to point out that the details of the DRM methods would leak faster than Valerie Plame's secret identity, hence making it incredibly difficult to maintain their respective agreements with the big four record labels in regards to said copy protection. Again, this sounds less than ideal.

Which brings us to option 3:
Do away with DRM altogether. This seems to be Mr. Jobs' ideal solution (as well as the ideal solution for consumers), and I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with him. His argument is that DRM systems have thus far been completely ineffective in stemming the tide of online music piracy. Why even worry about protected songs purchased from iTunes when you can buy a completely unprotected CD which you can then rip to MP3 and distribute as you see fit? A strong argument indeed, however I'd take it a step further.

The so called "problem" of online music piracy (in my eyes at least) seems to be a drastically overstated one. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, I'm just saying that it isn't even remotely as damaging as the RIAA would have us believe. Remember the introduction of the cassette tape? They insisted that it was being used to breach copyright laws and that it could lead to the downfall of the recording industry. That never happened. Remember when the first VCRs hit the market? The MPAA made the same argument and again the foretold apocalypse never materialized.

If anything, both industries greatly benefitted from both innovations when they stopped fighting progress and found a way to exploit these new technologies. Sooner or later they will have to wake up to the fact that trading music online is tantamount to the kids in the 80s and 90s that swapped mix tapes with their friends on a regular basis. And if online piracy is truly as destructive as they claim, where are the dismal sales figures to back up such a bold statement? Last I checked the local HMV outlets in my town were in no danger of having to close their doors.

But I digress.

The reason I'm twice as giddy about becoming a Mac user now can be found by checking out these Google search results for opinions on the new Windows Vista DRM features. Steve Jobs has the balls to point out how useless DRM is, while Bill Gates suckles at the teet of entertainment bureaucracy.

I've never been happier about being a turncoat.

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