Apple CEO Steve Jobs may be pushing for music labels to lift copyright protection on digital music, but he doesn't appear so eager to do the same for video content despite his position as the largest shareholder in Walt Disney.
On Monday, Jobs joined EMI Group executives to announce that EMI music will become available on Apple's iTunes store without DRM, the copyright protection technology that limits the way that digital music buyers can share and use their music.
But even though Jobs has been pushing the music industry to drop DRM, he has different opinions about video.
When asked during the EMI conference call about the potential of lifting DRM from video, Jobs said: "Video is pretty different from music right now because the video industry does not distribute 90 percent of their content DRM free. Never has. So I think they are in a pretty different situation, and I wouldn't hold it to a parallel at all."
Jobs was referring to CSS (Content Scramble System), technology that comes on DVDs that prevents users from copying the videos. He is arguing that CSS makes the video market different than the music industry because music CDs don't come with copy protection. As a result, Jobs' argument has been that digital music should be sold in an equivalent manner as CDs -- without copy protection.
Anti-DRM activists and analysts don't buy that explanation.
"Most people believe he's taking advantage of a technicality when he says that," said James McQuivey, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. Programs that let users get around CSS are readily available and widely used, so it's not a strong argument for why the DVD industry is different from CDs.
While some anti-DRM activists say that Jobs can easily set a precedent in the video industry by dropping DRM off video content produced by Disney, McQuivey says that Jobs is hampered by larger business issues.
"No movie studio would ever support the iTunes store if it was clear that Jobs would be pushing them to remove DRM," he said. If Jobs did start offering Disney content on iTunes without copy protection, the other studios might fear that he'd start pushing them to do the same, he said.
The reason that Jobs can negotiate with the music industry and encourage announcements like the one with EMI is because the iTunes store represents about 10 percent of music sales in the U.S., McQuivey said. By contrast, the iTunes store has only recently begun selling video, and the store has yet to prove itself as a moneymaker for video content producers. That means that even if Jobs did want to push for DRM-free video, he wouldn't have the same negotiating position with the movie studios as he does with the music labels.
"When a single retail outlet has the ability to control 10 percent of sales, you have to listen to him. Apple doesn't have that clout yet in the movie business," he said.
The politics behind why Jobs may not be pushing for DRM-free video doesn't placate opponents of DRM.