Cory Doctorow: "OMG DRM is r33ly bad!"

Ahhh. Another week, another anti-DRM…well, **screed**…by author, blogger, and Disney fetishist enthusiast [Cory Doctorow][Cory].

In _[Apple’s Copy Protection Isn’t Just Bad for Consumers, it’s Bad for Business][Cory article]_ — more honestly titled _How iTunes Screws the Music Industry and the Public_ on his blog — Cory points his blamethrower at Apple and boldly claims that DRM “**makes media companies into [Apple’s] servants**”.

Let’s set aside for a moment that (1) Apple couldn’t be a successful content retailer without having mutually-beneficial relationships with content providers, (2) content providers (presumably) have _some_ free will when it comes to deciding whether to work with Apple, and (3) DRM was a prerequisite for Apple’s entry into digital music sales, as dictated by its content providers.

Right off the bat, Cory claims that the “only possible” outcomes of DRM are:

* A popular single-vendor system that’s bad for the industry and general public
* A multi-vendor system that’s bad for the industry and general public

Even if you assume that this gross oversimplification of the content value chain to “the industry” and “the general public” is useful, that’s a not-terribly-productive Chicken Little view of DRM in general, and an unfair characterization of Apple’s DRM specifically.

In Coryland, a “good” outcome in regards to DRM can’t possibly exist for the industry or consumers. But even if you believe that, the concept of a **neutral** or **balanced** outcome — one which has both pluses and minuses, but on the whole is a reasonable compromise — is conspicuously missing from that worldview.

**All successful DRM systems must result in _at least_ a neutral outcome for both the industry and consumers.** Any DRM system that’s bad for both the industry and the general public dies quickly, if it gains any sort of toehold at all.

> Steve Jobs sells [restrictions on the media] — though you’d be hard pressed to find someone who _values_ those restrictions.

_Hard pressed?_ C’mon, it’s not rocket science — content **providers** value digitally-enforced restrictions because they want _some_ friction in the otherwise-frictionless world of file sharing in order to feel comfortable selling their goods digitally. Content **retailers** value digitally-enforced restrictions because without those capabilities, they have no content, and therefore no business.

Also, saying that Steve Jobs “sells restrictions” is like saying that Cory “sells non-recycled paper”. Both generally (but not always) come with the territory of selling digital music and works of fiction respectively, and other than that are really beside the point (which is, after all, selling content).

> No one but Apple is allowed to make players for iTunes Music Store songs, and no one but Apple can sell you proprietary file-format music that will play on the iPod.

But the corollary to that is **everyone is allowed to sell unprotected music that will play on the iPod**, which is exactly what Cory wants. So what is he complaining about?

By emphasizing what a travesty it is that no other content retailers can sell DRM-encrypted music to iPod users (which we know is not his goal anyway) Cory panders to the interests of “the industry” in hopes that they’ll hog-pile on Apple. What he doesn’t understand is that (1) the industry is generally happy with their relationship with Apple, (2) the industry is learning from Apple, and (3) the industry knows that Apple’s unusually-high marketshare in paid digital content is a temporary artifact of the industry’s youth.

He also implies that this somehow reduces consumer choice, which is silly. Here are several completely legal ways to get music that will play perfectly on your iPod:

* Buy and rip CDs
* Buy DRM-free music from eMusic
* Buy DRM’d music from the iTunes Music Store
* Buy DRM’d music using any system that lets you burn CDs, then rip it
* Download free (public domain, Creative Commons-licensed, etc.) music
* Subscribe to music-focused podcasts

> Apple has already demonstrated its willingness to abuse its monopoly over iTunes players by shipping “updates” to iTunes that add new restrictions to the songs its customers have already purchased.

Meh. It’s true that before version 4.5, iTunes let you burn a playlist containing music purchased from the iTunes Music Store ten times instead of the current seven. However, iTunes 4.5 also raised the number of computers that you could authorize to five, up from three.

> Steve Jobs and Apple managed to lure the music industry into licensing the copyrights for the iTunes Music Store even though the Store’s use-restrictions are comparatively mild.

Right…Steve **lured** the poor, defenceless music industry into licensing their content for the iTunes Music store, which (at the time) had — wait for it! — **zero million customers**.

> Steve Jobs really doesn’t care how many CPUs you play an iTune on, or whether you burn a playlist seven or 10 times.

Here, Cory simply shows that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Could anyone really be so naive as to believe that these are the initial terms that content providers offered, and all Steve did was say “yes”? Steve fought like hell for the current terms — not for the good of all mankind, but because he knew the pricing and rights that would enable the iTunes Music Store to be successful.

> There’s no good answer to designing a “good DRM.” Or rather, no DRM is good DRM.

That’s the kind of crazy digi-hippy talk that is **not** going to advance the cause. Cory’s also not thinking about how DRM could work for us — I’m personally looking forward to the use of DRM to protect and control access to individuals’ private data.

So, Apple didn’t invent the concept of DRM. The iPod doesn’t force you to buy DRM-encrypted content, and there’s _lots_ of alternatives. And consumers don’t seem to particularly _mind_ Apple’s DRM implementation a whole heck of a lot. So why the angst in his pants?

* [InformationWeek: Apple’s Copy Protection Isn’t Just Bad for Consumers, it’s Bad for Business][Cory article]

[Cory article]: