"If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store." So says Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a lengthy message posted on Apple's Web site today.
DRM, of course, stands for digital rights management -- or digital restrictions management, as its stauncher foes would have it. The term refers to a collection of technologies designed to control the way that digital files can be copied or distributed. To its opponents, the way DRM has been deployed by media companies to restrict the use of digital media runs contrary to community interests and individual freedoms.
Jobs mostly avoids the thornier issues of Constitutional law in his missive. Instead, he concentrates on a more practical matter: DRM, he says, simply ain't all it's cracked up to be.
"Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it?" he asks. "The simplest answer is because DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy."
A variety of DRM systems have appeared over the years. Many of these, including the FairPlay system used by Apple's iTunes store, are proprietary systems controlled by a single vendor. Other systems are more open -- Sun Microsystems has even proposed a completely open source version. Few, if any, have managed to stand up to the efforts of hackers determined to break them. Most recently, tools have surfaced that can break the DRM encryption used on the high-definition HD-DVD and Blu-Ray disc formats, which are only at the very early stages of consumer adoption.
According to Apple's Jobs, the expense and ill will incurred by the music industry's reliance on DRM technology hurts that industry more than it helps. But so far, the media companies aren't playing ball. The only way that Apple can feature major-label music and movies on its iTunes store is by demonstrating a willingness to lock down that content ... insofar as it is possible.
What do you think? Will the combined clout of Apple and the more vocal opponents of DRM be enough to convince the media industry to change its ways? Or is the cat and mouse game between hackers and DRM companies something we're just going to have to live with? Leave us your comments, below.