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The Devil's Advocate
by John Kheit

Music Industry Savior? - Steve Jobs Is The Media's Darling
April 17th, 2003

Steve Jobs is the best man on earth to save the media industry. He may be the only person with enough technical and media savvy to bring that industry into the digital age away from its currently malaise-filled plateau. More than that, he is one of their own. By owning such a large stake in Pixar, he, perhaps, stands to lose more than any one individual if people rip off movies. Most of his net worth comes from Pixar, and yet he seems to have a moderate take on keeping consumers' lives unfettered by restrictive copy protection schemes (e.g., Apple's DVD allows you to copy your DVDs to your hard drive for later viewing).

Maybe because Steve Jobs' is "one of their own," he might influence the corporate heads of media companies more so than any one else. Just maybe, the major media companies will believe he has the right recipe for shifting their entire industry into a new paradigm -- one of on-demand digital distribution. A paradigm where music lovers are not greatly limited in the enjoyment of products with large restrictions regarding the where, when, how or on what they may enjoy their purchased entertainment. If rumors are realized, he will be the only one to have convinced most if not all of the major music labels into a deal to distribute music directly to consumers in a relatively unencumbered and facile, i.e., one-click, manner. Movies cannot be too far off.

A Little DRM Payola Goes A Long Way
So what has brought this all to the fore now? Most likely it is the combination of MPEG4 and Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, with a twist. That's right, the content from any Apple based service will most likely be copy protected. You better learn to live with that concept if you want to be able to easily obtain all the music in the world legally, in high quality and well-labeled formats. That's what has had to change to bring the major media companies together and work with a man that was not always their darling. Remember Apple's "Rip, Mix, and Burn" ad campaign? Well, that little slogan was generally loathed by the media companies.

"Rip, Mix, and Burn" was only tempered by the "Please don't steal music" message included with the iPod. In fact, there is no serious copy protection included with the iPod or the Macintosh when it comes to digital music. True, iTunes only syncs your iPod to any one machine, but nothing stops a user from manually copying the music on an iPod elsewhere. The media giants were far from pleased with this message or state of affairs.

All that will change. A DRM copy protection scheme such as the one found in this Apple patent (and mentioned in a previous editorial) will most likely be integrated into the operating system, QuickTime, iTunes, and/or the iPod. I'm sure a lot of you might cry "foul" or bloody murder, and depending on how it's implemented, you may well be justified.

Others might be crying "hey where the hell was that twist you promised?" Well the twist is two-fold. First, the DRM technology in Apple's patent provides the user with the ability to burn music to CDs, and that would easily be extended to allowing the music to transfer to your iPod. By using and providing "permission keys," Apple could even allow site license permission keys for content, which would allow all the machines in your home to share music (which could be further extended by remote play-lists in Rendezvous-enabled versions of iTunes). And second, Apple will provide a user interface that makes purchasing and managing the DRM content so simple and transparent that users won't really care that DRM is involved. Select the Apple Music Store from your iTunes play list, perform searches, and one-click buys a song and brings it down to your machine. So simple, you already know how to use it.

Non-Draconian DRM May, Grudgingly, Satisfy Most People
Why won't most people care about such DRM copy protection? Well, if you get to take your music anywhere you normally might want, where is the problem? If you get to burn CDs for your car, or move tunes to your iPod, why would you be bothered by other restrictions on copying? What else is left? Mostly peer-to-peer sharing with non-friends.

With the ability to burn CDs and tote tunes on your iPod, most people will be satisfied. You should even be able to play your music through a PC or Linux box straight from your iPod. True, there would be restrictions in some areas. Furthermore, DRM/copy protection schemes traditionally encumber legitimate users more than the targeted and technically savvy thieves/pirates, which often makes using the protected content more painful than needed. Assuming Apple makes ease-of-use a nugatory issue, would any remaining restrictions be serious enough for most people to care? Would the inability to give your friend a digital copy of a song be so bad when you could burn a CD version (which could be digitally re-encoded with some slight fidelity degradation)? Probably not. Assuming the music was sold at a reasonable price, such a "kinder and gentler" DRM would likely satisfy most users' desire to take their music where they like, yet prevent wide spread copying.

Too Much Success Might Mean Too Little Jobs for Apple
The real problem for Apple might occur if all of this successfully pans out. If Steve Jobs succeeds in moving the media industry to digital distribution, in essence, rewriting how an entire industry conducts business, there may be great calls for him to take a post as CEO elsewhere. Should he get an invite to become the CEO for one of the media conglomerates, he may find it irresistible to turn down. It would be an opportunity, once again, to change the world (from a different vantage) and would provide Jobs with a high point, a natural transition point, to leave Apple behind somewhat gracefully with its 2.4% global market share. I'm not sure if there is more of Steve Jobs' DNA in Apple or vice versa. However, should Steve Jobs leave Apple to embark on his journey in forming this brave new digital media world, it might provide for serious transition challenges for the company he is largely responsible for resuscitating.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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