Stranglehold on 20th Century Business Models

Some of the criticism directed at Steve Jobs’ call for an end to DRM is a bit strange and simple.

Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the move would eliminate technology hurdles that now prevent fans from playing songs bought at Apple’s iTunes Music Store on devices other than the company’s iPod.

“We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen,” Bainwol said in a prepared statement.

I have no doubt that an eight-year-old with a blank CD could break Apple’s DRM by putting that blank CD in her PC, burning her iTunes songs to the cd, and ripping the resulting disc to mp3 format. I suspect Mr. Jobs is closer to the wise solution with his third of three alternatives. Not that, as my example proves, making FairPlay more available won’t change how easy it is to bypass it. Individuals only need a willingness to invest a bit of time and effort, along with a few blank discs. DRM is already dead, no matter how long music companies attach its corpse to most legally downloaded songs.

Instead of fear, which has been the record industries modus operandi surrounding digital music since the inception of the mp3 format, it should imagine a future based in reality. People will sidestep DRM and illegally trade music. Preventing that shouldn’t punish everyone, though. Don’t treat customers like criminals waiting to undermine the business. For example:

Britain’s EMI Music is experimenting with releasing music in the DRM-free MP3 format. In the past few months, the company has released tracks by Norah Jones, Lily Allen and the band Relient K.

“The feedback from fans (has) been very enthusiastic,” EMI spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer said.

Leigh believes older music could be made available without copying restrictions.

“I think the labels will release selected back-catalog stuff, to see what happens,” he said.

Low risk, potentially high return. That’s a company that’s trying.

Now, Mr. Jobs, about those restrictions that prevent me from buying music on iTunes from other countries…