The Open Letter-Off of '07

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Over the past few weeks, the web has been buzzing with competing open letters about Digital Rights Management, all starting from a post on February 6 by Steve Jobs. We break down the dialog after the jump, in excruciating detail....

It started on February 6, when Steve Jobs posted his Thoughts on Music, an open letter on the Apple web site. Jobs wrote about Apple's FairPlay DRM (Digital Rights Management) system, which is used to prevent copying music sold by the iTunes Store. The point of the letter is that Jobs believes DRM limits consumer choice, and is ultimately ineffective -- he points out that the vast majority of music sold today is on CD's, which contain no DRM. A central point of the letter is that Jobs believes Apple's FairPlay DRM system cannot be opened up to other companies, as it would inevitably be cracked by someone, and music companies have contractually obligated Apple to repair any such problems within a fixed period of time -- something that would become impractical in a landscape where many companies implemented their own versions of FairPlay. Jobs appears to have written the letter in an effort to deflect European legal pressures on iTunes, trying to shift the focus onto music companies, since they're the ones who demand DRM be used to protect music sold online.

Later that day, Jon Johanson (aka "DVD Jon," a cracker who broke DVD encryption some years back) responded with a blog post disputing Jobs' statistics and an open letter to Jobs suggesting that iTunes could implement a system for selling DRM-free music within "2-3 days."

On February 7, Mitch Bainwol of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) appeared to miss the point, encouraging Apple to open its FairPlay technology to competing companies. This despite the fact that Jobs had already explicitly rejected this possibility in the original open letter, along with a fairly lengthy explanation of why it wouldn't work.

Later on February 7, The Economist weighed in, with an unsigned editorial (read: open letter) on the issue. On the whole they agree with Jobs, though the editorial details how Jobs has changed his tune on DRM over the years. Norway's Consumer Council also got in on the action, suggesting that Jobs was simply trying to divert European legal attention to the music companies and away from Apple (their suggestion was that if he believes DRM is a problem, he should simply solve it, rather than calling for consumers to petition the music industry).

On February 9, Warner Music executive Edgar Bronfman suggested that Jobs' proposal was without logic and merit. Bronfman didn't post his own open letter, he just gave a brief statement to BBC News. On the same day, Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com, posted an open letter, suggesting that Jobs put his money where his mouth is and start selling DRM-free music, as well as opening up the iPod's technology to competitors.

On February 10, MPEG Chairman Leonardo Chiariglione posted an open letter responding to Jobs, pointing out some flaws in the original open letter and suggesting methods by which DRM could be standardized and adopted worldwide.

On February 12, Yahoo Music head Dave Goldberg came out against DRM, essentially agreeing with Jobs (though it's unclear whether Goldberg's comments were originally made in response to Jobs' open letter).

On February 18, Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso wrote his own open letter, in which he (among other things) offered to take Apple's FairPlay DRM system and incorporate it into the Macrovision stable of products. Again, this appears to miss Jobs' original statement that this was not going to happen. Are these guys even reading each others' open letters? (Read a non-marketing-ese translation of Amoroso's letter.)

The torrent of open letters (and analysis of the open letters) continues -- if anything significant happens, we'll be sure to write an open letter about it.

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February 19, 2007 - 6:00am
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