Musical obscurity

A lot of discussion this week on Steve Jobs’ proposal to the big four record companies to drop DRM. His main point is that this would enable customers to play all the music they purchased online on all digital devices they own. Currently, less than 10% of all music sold is sold online. Good plan I would say.

Warner’s Edgar Bronfman Jr reacted by stating that:

“The issue is obscured by asserting that DRM and interoperability is the same thing. They are not. To suggest that they cannot co-exist is simply incorrect.”

He is correct in stating that they are not the same and that logically spoken they can co-exist. But what he doesn’t say is that interoperability is a result affected by the use of DRM and the underlying software format, eg. MP3, AAC, Flac etc. The fact that he obliges Apple to use a DRM system, i.e. Fairplay, still results in the fact that I cannot play songs purchased from iTunes somewhere outside the platform. That sucks. He is too busy defending his CD business – for which his margins are higher than for songs sold through iTunes by the way.

But now on the formats part of the equation. Currently, Apple offers downloads in their AAC format and the open MP3 format. I do agree with Fred Wilson that they should make the step of offering downloads in all popular formats, including lossless formats. In that case, and if DRM is ditched, consumers could really use their online music purchases outside their iTunes and iPod environment the way they want.

And what about the artists? Like Cory Doctorrow states in this interview:

“The problem for artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”.

The question for them is if in the long run they are well off with record companies if they stick to their current strategy regarding DRM.


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