Over at Salon.com, Cory Doctorow, who has written some of the best articles and papers on DRM, has written a piece in response to the Steve Jobs Thoughts on Music open letter. Generally, I agree with Cory’s stance on the impacts of DRM on consumers. In fact, I agree with the general thesis of this article–that Apple is using DRM protected iTunes content to prevent iPod owners from switching to competing MP3 players. However, as Steve Jobs pointed out in his letter, the average iPod owner has only 3% iTunes DRM protected music. 97% of the music on iPods is DRM free. So while this amounts to a “switching” tax, the average iPod owner is accustomed to paying more than 3% in sales tax.
Cory’s article really is just a collection of anti-DRM arguments, and while many of them are great arguments against DRM, they don’t succeed in refuting the Jobs letter. I think he misses the spot.
While I dislike DRM, even the so called FairPlay, I believe it was a necessary evolutionary step for the music industry. Of course it is easy to break. That wasn’t the point, the point was to prove to the music industry that easy of use and good design could once again get people to buy and download music rather than copy off a P2P network. iTunes is a superior experience to P2P. It is easier to find and download from iTunes than from P2P, with better results for most users. But DRM won’t go away in a day, however the record lables must remove it from all of their libraries simulaneously.
Now that the first step has been taken, let’s hope that Steve Jobs is sincere and will actually remove DRM from music when the record labels come to their senses.