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Jobs upsets the DRM applecart

Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple, called on the big four record labels to abolish Digital Rights Management (DRM) for portable devices on Tuesday.

Speaking candidly in a statement on the Apple website, Jobs conceded that DRM, the method music retailers use to protect tunes from being illegally copied, “haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.”

With the overwhelming success of Apple’s iPod and iTunes music store, many have called on the company to open up its proprietary end to end system to incorporate other DRM-protected music or facilitate the use of a rival music loader/library.

However, Jobs claims that less than 3 per cent of the music on the average iPod is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97 per cent is unprotected. After all, the record labels get much of their revenues from selling unprotected CDs.

“Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players,” said Jobs.

“This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music,” he added.

With an estimated 90 per cent of all music worldwide sold in a DRM-free format, Jobs claims that maintaining the remaining 10 per cent in a DRM-encumbered format is prohibitive. Not least because Apple must maintain a team of DRM-engineers and scramble to update the software every time there is a breach in the protection.

“Convincing them [the music companies] to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace,” Jobs said.

Jobs’ remarks come just as Apple sets its sights on the mobile industry and an even wider global market. Perhaps the CEO of Apple was making a statement when he stood on stage at the unveiling of the iPhone, playing Beatles tracks from the device in his hand.

Apple has not been able to sell Beatles tracks via iTunes due to an infamous legal dispute with Apple Corps, the Beatles record label.

Earlier this week Apple and Apple buried the hatchet over the use of the “Apple” brand, but no agreement has yet been reached on the licensing of the actual music.

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