Apple’s DRM-free iTunes play trumps Microsoft’s huge bet on DRM

Apple Store“Apple’s forthcoming DRM-free music deal with EMI raises a simple question: What should Microsoft do to steal some music marketing thunder from iPod and iTunes? The EMI deal is probably something Microsoft could have announced, too. But Microsoft has DRM [digital rights management] on the brain, so to speak, as evidenced by anti-piracy mechanisms in Vista, Xbox and Zune,” Joe Wilcox writes for Microsoft-Watch.

“With the release of Windows Media 9, Microsoft made a huge bet on DRM. No question, Windows Media 9 delivered highly flexible rights management that could be used for lots of interesting marketing purposes, such as a label releasing a new album with, say, three free plays,” Wilcox writes. “But Microsoft’s bet hasn’t paid off in the market, even with so many music stores using Windows Media DRM. Apple did DRM better, by largely hiding it from music purchasers, and by making fairly easy the synchronization of DRM content with iPod. Microsoft played catch up on synchronization until the November release of Zune.”

Wilcox writes, “But Zune is heavily beholden to DRM. Music sharing—Zune’s big differentiator from iPod—requires encryption of transmitted tunes, even stuff that has no DRM. So, Zune applies rights management where it wasn’t before. Additionally, some label’s rights restrictions prevent users from sharing some music purchased from the Zune Marketplace.”

“If Microsoft is going to push ahead with a heavy DRM strategy, maybe it’s time to change the game plan. As Gartenberg’s colleague David Card writes in another blog post on the Apple-EMI deal, ‘DRM should unlock new business models, not attempt to lock down 20th century ones.’ He gives good advice,” Wilcox writes.

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “LinuxGuy and Mac Prodigal Son” for the heads up.]
Good job as usual, Apple, but really now, how hard is it to outmaneuver the Titanic? We have no doubt that Steve Ballmer is out on deck rearranging the chairs again today.

How to restore DRM to iTunes Store’s DRM-free EMI tracks: Squirt it from one Zune to another (if you can find one).

If you don’t find that funny, you probably work for Microsoft.

Apple iTunes

Related articles:
Norwegian Consumer Council senior advisor applauds Apple’s iTunes Store DRM-free music – April 02, 2007
CNBC video: Apple CEO Steve Jobs and EMI Group CEO Eric Nicoli – April 02, 2007
EMI’s Nicoli on DRM-free iTunes: ‘We have to trust our consumers,’ Apple’s Jobs: ‘right thing to do’ – April 02, 2007
Kudos to Steve Jobs and Apple for having courage to call for end of DRM and making it happen – April 02, 2007
Analyst Gartenberg: iTunes Store’s DRM-free music ‘a great win for Apple’ – April 02, 2007
Apple CEO Steve Jobs to appear live on CNBC within the hour – April 02, 2007
Apple: Higher quality 256 kbps AAC DRM-free music on iTunes Store coming in May – April 02, 2007
EMI rejects Warner Music buyout bid – March 04, 2007
EMI halts talks about selling DRM-free music – February 26, 2007
Warner Music approaches EMI in possible takeover bid – February 20, 2007
Macrovision posts pro-DRM open letter to Steve Jobs and digital entertainment industry – February 16, 2007
Warner’s DRM-loving Middlebronfman warns wireless industry it may lose music market to Apple iPhone – February 14, 2007
Monster Cable announces full support of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ call for DRM-free music – February 13, 2007
BBC columnist doesn’t believe Steve Jobs’ Apple would stop using DRM if music labels would allow it – February 12, 2007
EMI may sell entire music catalog DRM-free – February 09, 2007
Recording Industry Association of America wants their DRM, calls for Apple to license FairPlay – February 08, 2007
Warner’s Middlebronfman: Jobs’ DRM-free music call ‘without logic and merit, we’ll not abandon DRM’ – February 08, 2007
Technology Review editor gets a lot wrong in his article about Apple CEO Jobs’ push to end DRM – February 07, 2007
Apple’s Jobs jolts music industry; Zune exec calls Jobs’ call for DRM-free music ‘irresponsible’ – February 07, 2007
Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ posts rare open letter: ‘Thoughts on Music’ – calls for DRM-free music – February 06, 2007


  1. Apple is doing the smart thing to Microsoft:
    Don’t change the playa, change the game.

    If this works, Microsoft and its little-market-share-that-couldn’t-Zune will disappear quickly.

    MDN Magic Word: let
    As in “Let it be.”

  2. Re the article that the BBC columnist Bill Thomson wrote last month which was titled ‘Why I don’t believe Steve Jobs’. In it he made it clear he didn’t believe Steve was sincere in calling for the end of DRM for music downloads. I have an update.

    I emailed Bill pointing out how foolish some of his comments now seem (I said a lot more than that) and he took the time to reply and inform me that he’s just filed a new piece in which he admits to being proved wrong by Steve Jobs. He actually sent me the whole unedited article but asked that I don’t post it anywhere so I’ll respect that. It should be available on the BBC News site’s technology section Tuesday morning, UK time, probably titled ‘Moving to Open Music’ – Bill Thompson doubted Apple’s desire to sell songs without DRM. They start doing it in May, so what does he think now?. That may change when the editors get their hands on it. It seems balanced enough and worth a read.

    I have a feeling that there are quite a few people having to eat humble pie now.

    You can read about the original article here:
    BBC columnist doesn’t believe Steve Jobs’ Apple would stop using DRM if music labels would allow it and it’s also linked in the ‘Related articles’ section above.

  3. “Windows Media 9 delivered highly flexible rights management that could be used for lots of interesting marketing purposes, such as a label releasing a new album with, say, three free plays,”

    If by “interesting” he means “ridiculously stupid and insulting to the consumer”, then I totally agree. MS has positioned themselves to be the bitch of the music labels that are falling all over themselves to use retarded schemes like this instead of giving the consumer something they actually want to buy.

    The EMI/Apple announcing is a sign of progress. As many others have pointed out, the remaining step is either lossless compression or .wav files being made available.

  4. Why would Microsoft offer DRM free music? After all, Microsoft thinks Zune users are all thieves anyway. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />
    They should charge each user $5 (instead of just $1) for each Zune sold. That would show Apple.

  5. M$ loves DRM because it offers them yet another opportunity to lock people into Windows and Windows-based technologies. Anything that extends the Windows hegemony means many additional billions of dollars in M$’s pockets.

    To be honest, I could see some value in being able to thoroughly sample a song or an album for a few days, if it were a simple process without requiring a credit card number and such. It would be like test driving a car or tryinh out demo software. But the rest of the DRM picture does not appeal to me.

    In general, honest people will pay for the music that they like as long as they are treated fairly. Dishonest people will steal their music unless it becomes so dirt cheap that it isn’t worth stealing, which isn’t likely. DRM isn’t likely to radically change that behavior.

  6. DRM is now out of play, a non-issue moving forward.

    What has this been about all along? Format wars.

    Apple has now squarely pegged WMA a proprietary and license ridden Media Player platform, against open standard AAC.

    Other MP3 player companies will soon be toughting AAC “iTunes Store Music Compatible.” While their players are not iTunes compatible, the DRM-free AAC music in iTunes is.

    How hard will it be for SanDisk, Sony or Creative to simply make a “Copy” utility to sync DRM-Free AAC music in the iTunes directories to their player – easy.

    AAC is going to quickly become the fastest growing digital music format.

    Now ask youself about places like Napster. Why pay Redmond all that bank for license fees when they could easily switch to the AAC format all players will soon be using, with DRM-free music?

    Save money (aka make money), and give customers what they want – interoperability.

    iTunes to become a monster:
    – All but the most picky of audiophiles will now be able to purchase music via iTunes without worry they will hear the difference (that includes me).
    – The music is hassle free, and I can move it to whatever, whenever.
    – AAC for Windows folks means they won’t need a MS Media Player, but any AAC player out there to playback their music.

    WMA and Windows Media Player license fees are about to be delt a huge blow. That is what this is all about – for Apple anyway.

  7. I guess I don’t work for MS. Because I definitely laughed.

    This is all sheer genius on the part of Apple. MS has got to have invested $100 M in DRM if you include all the devices, work in Vista etc. Apple is countering with “just say no.” The lockin (not so much of a lock as convenience) was always iTunes itself, not the iTunes Store.

    It leverages Apple’s position as the only service without a subscription model.

    The challenge MS faces is… how does an organization walk away from such a large investment. Not quickly or easily. But MS’ love of DRM — not just for music for eveything Vista can lock down has handed the biggest strategic gift since, well… I can’t even think of a parallel. Sure MS wastes a lot of money on stupid mediocre products. But it’s rare for them to blunder strategically.

    Seriously, DRM is a huge reason not to upgrade to Vista. Essentially MS has decided that it’s their hardware, not yours.

    For years the argument amongst the hard core techies was that PCs were open systems and Apples were closed. What we are seeing is nothing short of a fundamental reversal of those roles. And the hard cores that care about this have a lot of influence…

  8. Great points Steven. This announcement today really f*cks Microsoft over good, most people have missed out on that fact. WMP and Microsoft’s proprietary WMA format are the biggest losers today.

  9. is going to be a big looser here as well. They currently make loads of money from licensing mp3 codecs and patents to hundereds of companies. We’re the ones that end up paying.

    Within a few years AAC will be the standard, all ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

    MDN Magic Word: music. How very appropriate!

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