DRM May Mean Strange Anti-Apple Bedfellows

Opinion: It's hunting season on Apple's iTunes and iPod juggernaut. That may make for some strange bedfellows.

Digital rights management conflicts could make for some strange bedfellows as hunting season opens on Apple and its iTunes juggernaut.

As eWEEKs Peter Galli reports, the Free Software Foundation is planning to protest DRM software, which restricts how and where content can be played, at Apple stores in New York and London Oct. 3. And while the FSF is officially ranting about DRM and its use by "big media," its no coincidence that Apple is the first target. Apple essentially owns the music industry right now, and a lot of folks arent happy about it. Apple has used its iTunes and iPod juggernaut to make its DRM software ubiquitous.

Lets recap all the folks worried about Apples growing clout:

  • The FSF, which is against DRM overall and would love to wipe those pesky copyright protection schemes off the planet. The chances are slim that the FSF will be successful, but if it makes enough noise it could highlight the issue. Somehow I doubt there will be streets closed off in front of Apple stores today because of thousands of protesters.
  • Microsoft, which is so threatened by Apples potential to dominate DRM that it is launching its Zune player in an attempt to put a dent into Steve Jobs & Co.s momentum. Why is Microsoft getting into designing hardware and worrying about the so-called "customer experience"? Hint: It aint the consumer. Zune is all about Microsofts own DRM software. It cant allow Apple to become the standard.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more details about Microsofts Zune.

  • The music industry. Apple dictates terms to the music industry. Sure the industry can tell Jobs that it would like flexible pricing, but that idea doesnt get too far. The industry would probably like to offer subscription plans too. Jobs doesnt like that plan though. So the music industry grudgingly goes along, since it has no choice. Dont be surprised if the music industry rallies behind Zune just to counterbalance Apple.

Could those aforementioned Apple worrywarts join forces? Anything is possible. To be sure, youre not going to see Microsoft fans rallying with the FSF gang outside Apple stores today. But there are some possible strange bedfellows.

To wit:

  • Microsoft could ultimately come around to the FSF position. There are sites such as e-Music that sell tunes without DRM (mostly from independent labels). Lets assume Zune flops and Apple owns DRM. Its possible Microsoft would say DRM is evil. It sees the light. If Microsoft couldnt own the standard, why wouldnt the company undercut it? Suddenly the FSF and Redmond folks are on the same side.
  • The music industry and the FSF could actually agree. On July 19, Sony BMG and Yahoo offered a new Jessica Simpson single for $1.99 without DRM restrictions. Instead of DRM, the song was personalized with the buyers name. Yahoo has been an outspoken critic of DRM. The big takeaway: The music industry is open to experimentation. Why? There are other business models to explore and the industry cant let Apple dominate.

These developments wont happen overnight, but dont rule them out. Apples potential to dictate the DRM game has a lot of people worried. Dont be surprised if some of these combatants wind up on the same side.

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