“Freely Trading”

by on February 7, 2007 · 26 comments

Ed Felten has a great analysis of Steve Jobs’ DRM essay:

[Jobs’s] real scorn is for outcome (2), where Apple licenses its DRM technology to other companies. It’s easy to see why this is the worst outcome for Apple–the company loses its ability to lock in customers, but everybody still has to put up with the cost and hassle of using DRM.

What the letter really does, in typical Jobsian fashion, is frame the debate. It does this in two respects. First, it sets up a choice between two alternatives: stay the course, or get rid of DRM entirely. Second, it points the finger at the major record companies as the ones making the choice.

This is both a clever PR move and a proactive defense against European antitrust scrutiny. Mandatory licensing is a typical antitrust remedy in situations like this, so Apple wants to take licensing off the table as an option. Most of all, Apple wants to deflect the blame for the current situation onto the record companies. Steve Jobs is a genius at this sort of thing, and it looks like he will succeed again.

Meanwhile, over at the Wall Street Journal is a great example of the point Felten made last week about the way the labels have framed the DRM debate. The Journal‘s coverage of Jobs’s essay has the sub-headline “Apple Chief Now Favors Making Downloads Of Songs Freely Tradable.” If you didn’t read the article carefully, you might get the impression that he’s advocating overturning the Grokster decision. But no, Jobs is simply saying that we should abandon DRM, an anti-copying technology that doesn’t actually do very much to prevent copying.

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