Now, if we can assume for a second that Steve Jobs is the single most powerful man in digital media (being that he runs Apple, with the iPod and iTunes, and sits on Disney's board, with its many labels, networks, and studios), then Bill Gates is surely a close second. Although he hasn't commented publicly on Steve's open letter, it's worth recalling that in December, even Bill -- the man at the head of the company that gave us the DRM-crippled Zune, PlaysForSure, and now PlayReady -- said that DRM has "huge problems" so "people should just buy a CD and rip it." While we'd love to see the two men -- the content industry's two primary enablers of DRM technology for end users -- join hands and bring an end to the madness, we're not rehearsing our kumbaya lyrics just yet, dear readers.
In an industry flaccid from finger pointing, let us remind you of the sorry state of disrepair plaguing so-called Digital Rights Management:
|HD DVD films
||AACS among others
||AnyDVD HD or BackupHDDVD to "backup" HD DVD titles from known volume encryption keys or processing key
|Blu-ray Disc films
||AACS among others
||BackupBluRay to "backup" Blu-Ray Disk titles from known volume encryption keys or processing key
||JHymn and QTFairUse are among the most common tools working with the latest release of iTunes (7.0.2)
|PlaysForSure music (Napster, MTV Urge, MusicMatch, etc.)
||Windows Media DRM
||FairUse4WM 1.3 with IBX version 11.0.5XXX.XXXX and earlier -- still does not work in Vista.
|TiVo video recordings
||encoded .tivo files
||TiVoDecode Manager GUI wrapper
||More applications than we can list -- MacTheRipper (Mac) and AnyDVD (PC) will do the job
(attempts to introduce DRM have failed spectacularly: remember Sony BMG Music's notorious XCP rootkit or SunnComm's laughable MediaMax DRM which could be easily defeated by holding the Shift-key when inserting a "protected" CD)
||Latest iTunes or Windows Media Player 11 (among countless others) will rip your music to your hard disk
|Microsoft Vista "premium content"
||Protected Media Path DRM
||None -- Alex, we're waiting
You'll note some obvious omissions above such as the new Zune Marketplace
and its DRM (which is basically just PlaysForSure, and can even be played on some PFS-compatible devices) or Sony's Sony Connect
music store and OpenMG DRM, both mentioned in Jobs' open letter and both uncompromised to date. However, that has less to do with "surperior DRM" than the result of a DRM's likelihood of being hacked being directly proportional to its popularity. In other words, if the content on those systems achieved the popularity of the items listed in the table above, they will each, eventually, be hacked as well.
But those aren't the only thoughts on music
we've been having, of late. With last year's acquisition of Pixar, Steve Jobs became the single largest shareholder in the Walt Disney Company, the media megacorp he helps to steer from his seat on the board of directors. Walt Disney Company media runs throughout Jobs' iTunes: Apple sells Disney-owned music by artists on Hollywood Records, Lyric Street Records, Mammoth Records, and Walt Disney Records, Disney-owned TV shows from its ABC, ESPN, A&E, and History Channel networks, and, of course, movies from Disney-owned studios like Disney, Pixar, Touchstone, and Miramax. So why is all of that
content still sold on iTunes with DRM? Really, we'd like to know, because that's an environment Steve does
have some control over, a place where he could drop DRM "in a heartbeat."
Still, despite all the politicking and handwringing on the subject, let's not forget that certain bit of truth found in Steve's words: "DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy." As such, we join the EFF
and "DVD" Jon Lech Johansen
to urge Apple to take the first step -- strip the DRM from the independent label and Disney-owned music, TV, and movie content in the iTunes Store. Show the "Big Four" you mean business... and we'll all reward you with ours.