Will Apples Rip-Mix-Burn Tune Change?

Brooks: If Apple acquires Universal Music, it will own the music.

When Apple began not only encouraging people to Rip. Mix. Burn their favorite CD tracks, but also selling them the tools that made it all easy, the different-thinking computer company seriously ticked off the record business.

You could imagine an Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man sitting somewhere clucking that Steve Jobs and Co. would be singing a different tune if Apple owned the copyrights on the tracks in question.

Apple may yet have the chance to put its money where its mouth is—last week, the LA Times reported that Apple is in talks with Vivendi Universal to buy Universal Music Group, the worlds largest record company, for as much as $6 billion.

Apple is set to launch a music download service later this month, an effort that most of the major record labels are said to be backing. However, judging from the record industrys attitude toward online music distribution so far, I cant imagine that itd permit this service to break any new ground.

For instance, Sony, which possesses the technical know-how to deliver a music service that could really take advantage of the enormous music distribution potential of the Internet, is currently frozen by the conflicting demands of its consumer electronics and content production divisions.

Like the rest of the recording industry, Sonys holding out for bulletproof digital rights management technologies. Assuming these sorts of unbreakable content controls could ever be developed, which they couldnt, theyd prove so restrictive of fair use rights, like transferring songs from to device or sharing tracks between users, that the public would never buy into them. If Apple controlled its own large catalog of recordings—and Universals stable of artists is an enormous one—theyd enjoy enough flexibility to try what no one else has: offering to sell people what they want, how they want it.