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Apple to play nice with Fairplay?

Some might say it’s about time, but I’d say it was only a matter of time before Apple made their Fairplay DRM scheme available to third parties. For those not in the know, Fairplay is Apple’s own, in-house Digital Rights Management scheme that managed to placate the music labels and content producers while giving the iTunes users a fair deal.

I say fair deal because Fairplay is a better scheme than most other commercially-backed DRM, and after all, Steve Jobs himself dislikes the idea of DRM.

But if you want to do business with the music labels and the movie studios, those are the rules.

The timing is about right for both Apple and their Made For iPod licencees, because now is the time when the iPod ecosystem is beginning to mature and stabilize:

“Apple plans to open up protected music and movies content bought from the iTunes Store … The iPod maker is expected to make two announcements, possibly as early as this week – the first will be to allow streaming of protected AAC content via USB; the second will be to licence its Fairplay DRM to the company’s Made For iPod licencees.”

And with Apple making inroads in all kinds of directions, such as iPod connections being added into over half of the cars rolling off the production line in the US, the peripheral manufacturers must be laughing all the way to the bank.

I can see why Apple has held out so long. The key thing for Apple was to get the core service just about right. Now that’s in place, the Made For iPod licencees can do what it is they need to do to fill in the gaps.

Then there’s the Apple iPhone, which will bring a whole new dimension to content consumption, which may well spawn an entirely different class of devices linking to it and polling the iPhone for data & information.

Not playing nice, or fair

“The expected announcements could signal a move on Apple’s part to take some of the sting out of its Fairplay DRM which has come in for a great deal of criticism over recent months. It may also be a way of keeping Made For iPod makers onside, as the draw of the Microsoft Zune becomes stronger.”

I’m not so sure that last part is the case. Right now, Microsoft is having their own problems, what with the music labels randomly preventing the sharing of songs that rely on Microsoft’s own DRM, which is quite a bit more draconian than that which Apple offering with Fairplay:

“It’s official: record companies don’t like you … It appears Sony Music and Universal Music Group are marking certain artists of theirs as “prohibited” for sharing, meaning that just because you’ve paid for a song, and even managed to find another Zune user on the planet Earth, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get to beam that JoJo track to another Zune via WiFi magics. In a non-scientific sampling of popular artists by Zunerama and Zune Thoughts, it looks like it’s roughly 40-50 percent of artist that fall under this prohibited banner, and the worst news is that there’s no warning that a song might be unsharable until you actually try to send it and fail.”

Bummer.

But is this any surprise? Of course not, especially if you’ve recently read the excellent Ars Technica article on the real reasons for DRM. Here’s a sample for you:

“Access control technologies such as DRM create ‘scarcity’ where there is immeasurable abundance, that is, in a world of digital reproduction. The early years saw tech such as CSS tapped to prevent the copying of DVDs, but DRM has become much more than that. It’s now a behavioral modification scheme that permits this, prohibits that, monitors you, and auto-expires when. Oh, and sometimes you can to watch a video or listen to some music.

The basic point is that access control technologies are becoming more and more refined. To create new, desirable product markets (e.g., movies for portable digital devices), the studios have turned to DRM (and the law) to create the scarcity (illegality of ripping DVDs) needed to both create the need for it and sustain it. Rather than admit that this is what they’re doing, they trot out bogus studies claiming that this is all caused by piracy.”

We live in a curious world, do we not? One where through the eyes of the music labels and the movie studios, eyes coloured by pure avarice, trust cannot be earned nor can respect be given but are both bought and sold.

“In a nutshell: DRM’s sole purpose is to maximize revenues by minimizing your rights so that [the music labels and the movie studios] can sell them back to you.”

Someday, someone might make a movie about this…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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