Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Big Picture: Apple's DRM is not a Monopoly

I'm really starting to get sick of all of this "Apple is the new music monopoly" talk and now that the EU seems to be interested in getting into the battle, it's getting even worse. EU takes aim at Apple over iTunes

European Union consumer chief Meglena Kuneva decided to get into the fray recently saying,
Do you think it's fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that an iTunes song only plays in an iPod? I don't. Something has to change.
The problem with this statement is that the CD to digital music analogy doesn't really work. When there were just CDs, your alternatives were LPs, and cassette tapes, and converting between the formats was lossy. All incompatible formats, and no other way to buy your music, there was no choice BUT to have all the CD players work the same to get CD quality music. Now, though, you can conveniently buy a music selection from the iTunes store (ITS), digitally, with DRM, or you can buy the same thing on CD and make your OWN digital copy without DRM and, if you want, without any loss of quality. Apple's store is really a matter of convenience, not of exclusivity of a format.

[Update: Meglena Kuneva apparently later backed off her charges saying "there was no reason to talk about legal action against the U.S. computer and technology company" and that she "merely wanted to raise questions." EU Commish backs off on Apple Why'd she do this? Because she probably realized she was being an idiot.]

Convenience is not a right. There is no law that says that everyone is entitled to the same music purchasing convenience. If you want to use the ITS, you purchase an iPod. If you don't, you can still buy the CDs, often for the same or less cash. No DRM, you're free to do with it what you will. If the convenience of downloading from the Apple store trumps the DRM they are required to use by the record companies, then so be it.

The thing is, it's not like major releases are only sold through the ITS and through no other venue. You do have options, you have the option of buying an iPod and purchasing your music both from the ITS and on DRM-free CDs. You have the option of purchasing a Microsoft Zune (they'd be so happy if someone did) and purchase music both from THEIR proprietary Zune-only store and on DRM-free CDs. Finally you have the option of buying an MP3 player from, say Creative, and still purchasing and ripping DRM-free CDs. Additionally you CAN make a CD using music purchased from the ITS, and rip tracks from it for ANY MP3 player, at a loss of quality, in just 2 extra steps.

The charges of an Apple monopoly just don't add up, especially when compared to the blatant Microsoft desktop monopoly of many, many years. No one requires you to buy an iPod, or music from the ITS. You are free to purchase any number of alternatives. Apple's dominant iPod and distribution system do not a monopoly make, not when you can still easily purchase a CD with the same material and rip it for your personal use, sans DRM and any loss in quality. I just don't see where Apple is forcing anyone to do anything, not when the consumer has plenty of equitable, but possibly less convenient, alternatives available.


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