Apple’s Eddy Cue explains why DRM for music was a necessary evil

“In a trial about whether Apple’s iTunes was the lynchpin in shutting out competitors and making it harder for consumers to take their music elsewhere, today was Apple’s chance to explain what it was doing with its software nearly a decade ago,” Josh Lowensohn reports for The Verge. “To do that, Apple’s iTunes chief Eddy Cue today spent several hours testifying in an Oakland, California courtroom, mainly trying to explain why the company not only created its own digital rights management (DRM) software, but also why it didn’t share it widely with others.”

“Cue argued that Apple abhorred DRM, but had to implement it in order to broker deals with record labels that collectively controlled 80 percent of the music market,” Lowensohn reports. “After investigating existing solutions, Cue says Apple decided to make its own called Fairplay, which it contemplated licensing to other companies. But today Cue said that there were technical issues keeping that from ever happening. ‘We thought about licensing the DRM from beginning, it was one of the things we thought was the right move that because we can expand the market and grow faster,’ Cue said. ‘But we couldn’t find a way to do that and have it work reliably.'”

“As issue, Cue said, were things like interoperability with the growing multitude of MP3 players. New devices from other companies would come out, and might not work with that system,” Lowensohn reports. “‘Others tried to do this, and it failed miserably,’ Cue said. ‘One of those was Microsoft.'”

Read more in the full article here.

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Apple on trial: Were iTunes updates really an anti-consumer scheme?
Steve Jobs on RealNetworks in 2011 deposition: ‘Do they still exist?’ – December 3, 2014
Steve Jobs said Apple took pains to protect record contracts – December 3, 2014
Star witness in Apple lawsuit is Steve Jobs – December 1, 2014
How to kill the DRM in your old iTunes Store music purchases – March 18, 2014
Apple asks judge to dismiss FairPlay lawsuit following Steve Jobs’ deposition – April 19, 2011
Apple’s iTunes Store goes DRM-free and 3G via iPhone; variable pricing coming soon – January 6, 2009
Major music cartels demand concessions from Apple before inking DRM-free iTunes Store music deals – December 15, 2008
RealNetworks ‘Harmony’ stops working on iPods but nobody notices for a month and a half – December 15, 2004
Real’s online petition for music ‘freedom’ backfires bigtime – August 17, 2004
Real cracks Apple’s Fairplay; to sell iPod-compatible songs without Apple’s authorization – July 25, 2004
Jobs to Glaser: Go pound sand – April 16, 2004


  1. One thing people forget at that time was that pirated music was killing the industry (in addition to the ineptness of the labels). Apple provided the first really secure and effective way to sell music online. This combined both device and software integration that made it easy for the user to get songs. They had a choice of either ripping their own CDs or buying via the store. If they wanted to use the songs with DRM embedded on other devices they could by making a CD and importing that onto the player software.
    No one really complains about people stealing music anymore. Of course it still happens but there are no good legitimate ways to purchase music. Apple developed the first model that really worked and there are now plenty of competing services.

  2. Now that the case is in trouble (no actual plaintiff), let us hope it gets dismissed and we move on, since nobody will really benefit from it at this point (except of course for the law firm that thought up of the suit in the first place).

    If it doesn’t, though, Eddy Cue will have to bring in some techno guns to explain exactly WHY was it so difficult to reliably license FairPlay to other hardware makers, as well as to other online digital music distributors. As it stands, hist statement “we couldn’t find a way to do it and have it work reliably” is expected to be taken at face value by the court, and I’m sure the plaintiff’s lawyers will bring their own expert witnesses to testify how there were no obstacles, and will likely bring up “Play for Sure” as an example how licensed DRM worked perfectly fine for Microsoft, Real, Napster and all other online music stores, as well as for all those known and unknown hardware makers out there who were making MP3 players with ‘Play for Sure’. Cue will have to demonstrate why FairPlay couldn’t have been licensed the same way MS licensed ‘Play for Sure’, underscoring the difference between the two and identifying the actual technological problems with the ‘Play for Sure’ model. I don’t really remember if there were any real performance issues with ‘Play for Sure’ (I don’t know anyone who owned such a device and bough music from those online stores). The whole ‘Play for Sure’ ecosystem was so small, it was really difficult to find anyone who had had first-hand experience with it, to hear if the system had problems (for example, songs expiring before they should, songs not playable on the device, store refusing to allow download of songs, inability to unlock the files upon resumption of subscription, that were locked out due to subscription expiration). We would need to hear examples like these in order to demonstrate how ‘Play for Sure’ wasn’t such a consistent and reliable system, and how developing such a system for ‘FairPlay’ by Apple would be an insurmountable task.

    1. Plays For Sure had all kinds of problems. I occasionally won PFS songs through various promotions and never managed to reliably play the songs consistently. I eventually gave up.

      Plays for Sure was more accurately named Pays For Sh!t.

    2. Eddy Cue doesn’t have to bring in other people to bolster his statements. Either the Plaintiff’s attorney has to challenge them or the jury gets to decide whether to believe Cue or not. He also gave examples of DRM systems that did not work well, like Microsoft’s Plays for Sure, which had problems working even on Microsoft’s own PCs and devices, let alone other manufacturer’s devices.

      The reason the Plays for Sure microsystem was so small was because it didn’t work. Which is exactly Eddy Cue’s point.

  3. Cue’s comments regarding Microsoft are spot on. Discussions about what Apple did and why almost always occur in a vacuum that fails to recognize that others actually attempted what people expect Apple to do, and they failed miserably. what consumers were actually harmed in this TRMS? Those who initially bought DRM music from Apple that still have full access to their tracks, or people who bought music from competing services with byzantine DRM schemes who now cannot access their files because those schemes and companies or dead?

    1. Where Apple wisely anticipated and feared to tread companies like Microsoft blundered and bungled forward like Neanderthal fools into the hell pit of mediocrity and crash ‘n burn FAIL tech. And paid the price of future distrust by consumers and partners who will think twice about being burned by Redmond again.

  4. Probably one of the issues would be the ACC format that Apple chose and all the licensing around that. The other devices at the time were all MP3 based.

    Perhaps another reason was Apple’s legal fear that if someone got a hold of the DRM too, they could reverse engineer it and put their contracts at risk.

    1. You do realise that AAC is in fact MP4, the audio codec used for DVDS soundtracks and better quality than MP3, and which Apple licenced from the MP3 organisation?
      It may well be due to MP4 being used caused an issue, because everyone else stuck with the inferior codec, but that’s pure conjecture.

      1. To clarify a little bit:

        MP3: a filename extension for audio files encoded using MPEG 2 layer 3 codec;
        AAC: a filename extension for audio files (meaning Advanced Audio Codec), a prt of MPEG 4 audio codec;

        Both are proprietary and are controlled by the MPEG-LA group (not related to MPEG, Motion Picture Experts Group), which handles licensing.

        Microsoft’s ‘Play for Sure’ DRM was using Microsoft’s proprietary WMA (Windows Media Audio) encoding, and NOT any of the MPEG-LA flavours.

      2. As far as the codec ‘quality’ is concerned, the MPEG-4 codec formats (such as AAC) are generally superior in performance to the older MPEG-2 variants (such as the “MP3”), in that they provide subjectively same audio quality with half the bit rate (or storage space) of the older format.

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