Apple (finally!) talks about DRM

Ever since Apple announced intentions to support two different DRM systems (AT&T’s a2b for QuickTime 4, SealedMedia’s DRM for QuickTime 5) but then didn’t execute on either one, it has declined to discuss its stance on DRM. It’s not surprising that Apple would be gun-shy, but the problem is that digital media developer and distributors are migrating to formats with solid DRM stories.

However, Apple seems to have been inspired by the DRM panel session at the recent O’Reilly Mac OS X conference. Here’s what Avie Tevanian and Phil Schiller told InfoWorld in their recent Apple Unpeeled special report.

Tevanian: What’s most important to us is what do consumers want and what are consumers entitled to? We’re very intimately aware of the issue of illegal use of these things vs. legal use and who’s paying and who’s not. We’re as big a stakeholder as anyone from that perspective. But we also believe the most important thing is not really how do you make sure people are always doing what’s legal by forcing them to only do things that are legal? The bigger question is, How do you provide them something that they really want? For example, I think most people would agree that the reason many people “steal” things over the Net is because it’s so easy to do and it’s the easiest way to get the things [they want]. Well, imagine if it were easier to pay a fair fee and get the thing. Our view is, Let’s look at how we provide things that are the easiest for consumers, because by and large people want to be honest. And by and large, people will pay for what they’re getting.

Schiller: Our attitude has always been you’ve got to protect the content owner’s rights and the consumer’s rights. We think you can try to do both. We did that with the iPod — we went down the middle safely. A second part of this is we fundamentally think that an attempt to create an unbreakable system is foolish. Microsoft has more than almost anybody [who’s been] trying to build encryption schemes into DRMs. And as we saw with the last version of Windows Media, it was broken before it shipped. So we think the No. 1 task is not to make an unbreakable system that tries to keep ahead of criminals, because criminals are going to find a way to break through anyway. What’s important is to find the products and services that help honest people stay honest. And people haven’t focused on that.

As a consumer of digital media, this sounds great. As a developer of digital media, DRM is also about enabling commerce, and I have to wonder whether the “imagine if it were easier to pay a fair fee and get the thing” problem is something that Apple is actively doing something about.