Monday, March 27, 2006

Apple's core problem with the new French drm law

Newsnight producer, Adam Livingstone, has a lovely accessible piece on why Apple are getting so worked up about the bill mandating drm interoperability that was passed by the French parliament last week.

"The problem for Apple now though is that there are lots of clever people in eastern lands churning out those 20 pound DVD players who have realised they can do the same trick with MP3 players that work just like iPods, only theirs would be a lot cheaper than 219 pounds plus VAT.

Worse still, mobile phones are now packing more processing power than the US space programme and their manufacturers want a piece of the MP3 action too.

So how do Apple keep their competitive advantage? Their best answer is something called Digital Rights Management. They sell music online, but it isn't sold in that universal MP3 format so beloved of pirates.

iTunes music is only playable under an Apple license, and then only by the person who pays for it. In other words iTunes is 80 per cent of the legal download market but only hardware blessed by Apple can play it. So unless you want to burn it back to the old technology that is the CD, that almost always means an iPod.

But iPods don't play the digitally protected formats used by other legal download services, so if you have an iPod and you're law abiding then you're locked into iTunes. It's a virtuous circle for them, but a vicious one for their competitors."

Which is why drm will ultimately fail. Let's see. Should I spend £219 on an iPod that will allow me to buy music from, er, Apple and no one else; or should I spend £20 on another digital music player that does the same as (or probably more than) the iPod, which will allow me to buy digital music from anyone who sells it?

I know - you can rip your CDs to the iPod and there are various other ways of getting music for it etc but contrary to what Livingstone says in response to comments, the situation with copying music like this is resolved, in the UK at least. Copying for personal use has long been accepted as 'fair use' in the US, in spite of the RIAA's briefings to the contrary, but UK copyright law does not permit the making of copies for personal use. Such copying is not considered "fair dealing" in the UK. Regarding the CD rippers having the consent of the copyright holder, if a use is fair use, then consent is not required. Fair use and fair dealing unfortunately are really complex concepts in practice, like IP law generally, so it is rarely easy to declare definitely that a particular use of a copyrighted work will be protected by fair use/dealing.

Update: From the Register, Denmark joins France in Apple-kicking

No comments: