Say it isn’t so Torgeir!

As an American of Norwegian descent (my grandparents came over on “the boat” from the Bergen area) I was particularly disappointed to recently read Torgeir Waterhouse’s reaction to Steve Job’s “open letter” on music and FairPlay, the digital rights management (DRM) system used by Apple on the iTunes music store.

Job’s letter is in part a response to a complaint against Apple filed by Torgeir in his capacity as Senior Adviser to the Consumer Council of Norway. In that complaint (full text pdf here) Torgeir is quoted as saying that iTunes:

“blocks consumers from breaking the copy protection, or DRM, if they want to use other MP3 players than Apple’s iPod. This is a clear breach of the Copyright Act.”

Anyone who has used iTunes, at least in this country, knows this statement is simply not true. No one purchasing music on the iTunes Music Store is blocked in any way from listening to iTunes-purchased music on whatever device they wish. Yes, some players don’t support the AAC format, but that has nothing to do with the FairPlay DRM.

Many people, myself included, have bought music (and videos) at the iTunes Music Store and have never played such purchases on an iPod.  I often play music purchased from the iTunes Music Store on a computer. I use both Windows and Mac computers all the time, and have had no problem listening to iTunes Music Store purchases without an iPod.
 
I also routinely burn my purchases to a CD, something that iTunes makes very easy to do. Apple even recommends doing so in order to backup your purchases. Many other online music services, such as Napster and Rhapsody, have much more stringent restrictions on CD burning.

Further, the iTunes software allows you to easily export any iTunes Music Store purchase to an unprotected MP3 file for playback on any MP3 player. You can also use the software to burn an MP3 CD, which can be played back in many newer CD players, including the ones found in most late model cars.

No, iTunes Music Store customers are certainly not “locked to the iPod,“ as Torgeir asserts.  And they aren’t locked to playing back purchases on iTunes, either, since once they burn a purchase to a CD or export to an MP3 file, they can play back their music with Windows Media Player or whatever software they want.

People who understand this issue (including the great folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation) know that Apple’s DRM isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the most consumer-friendly DRM systems out there.  And in Steve Jobs’ letter, he went on record as saying Apple would stop putting any DRM on music if he could:

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

With such a statement, Jobs has officially contradicted an earlier assertion by an Apple representative that the iTunes music store would never abolish FairPlay. In light of Apple’s dominant position in the MP3 player market, Steve Jobs has made a very bold statement. If anything, Torgeir should be applauding Job’s efforts to point out the real villains behind DRM: the major record labels.  I would encourage Torgeir and the Consumer Council of Norway to become better educated about this very important issue.

Please say it isn’t so, Torgeir! You’re giving us Norwegians a bad name among the digitally literate. Your response to Steve Job’s letter shows that you are quite uninformed about the rather liberal DRM used by Apple. I’m no fan of FairPlay, either, but it’s a heck of a lot more “consumer-friendly” that the DRM employed by Microsoft’s Zune.

You can send Torgeir an e-mail at torgeir.waterhouse@forbrukerradet.no.

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