Campaigners question Jobs’ call to drop DRM

A leading group of anti-DRM campaigners has called on Apple CEO Steve Jobs to back with action his recent call for the scrapping of copy protection on music downloads.

DefectiveByDesign, which regularly arranges pickets outside Apple retail stores, said that Jobs’ widely reported and widely critiqued call for record companies to abandon their insistence on DRM increasingly looks more like an attempt to deflect criticism of Apple than a serious commitment to eliminating usage restrictions, such as the FairPlay technology it uses in the iTunes Store.

‘To many observers your blog pledge looks like a way to reduce pressure on Apple from regulators, and head off calls from the industry to license FairPlay to other distributors,’ DefectiveByDesign says in an open letter to the Apple CEO.

‘It has been three weeks now since you published your pledge to drop DRM, and there have been many responses from commentators who have outlined actions you could take to back up your words,’ The fact that you have not taken any action leads us to ask the question: How genuine is your pledge?’

In fact Jobs did not pledge to drop DRM, saying only that he was prepared to do so if record companies agreed. But he did say that in the still unlikely event that they did he would ’embrace this wholeheartedly’.

Nonetheless DefectiveByDesign believes that there are three things that Apple could do to demonstrate Jobs’ ‘sincerity’.

Firstly it could abandon DRM for independent artists that already sell music elsewhere without subscriptions.

‘This will make it clear which artists are actually locked to one of the four big labels, allowing your customers to avoid those labels and the burden of DRM,’ the letter says. ‘Independent artists, who respect the desire of the fan to be free from DRM restrictions, will receive more support.’

Apple could also ‘take a public stand against DRM and legislation mandating DRM’ by funding a campaign urging repeal of restrictions in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

‘The impact of DRM and the DMCA will have chilling effects on our freedom of speech,’ the letter argues. ‘In a world where our radio shows, TV shows, news, and political coverage, come laden with DRM – because digital TV, digital radio and webstreaming have been mandated to use DRM – we will have lost the legal right to make commentary using source materials. Free speech through parody and quotation will have disappeared.’

But perhaps the most definitive statement that Jobs could make would be to use his position as the single largest shareholder in Disney to remove DRM from movies and TV shows that the studio sells through iTunes.

‘Why is your imagination limited to a world without DRM on music? You don’t once mention movies or video,’ the letter notes. ‘You can set the example in the arena of video and movies. Disney can be the first “major” to drop DRM. You have the direct power to do this.’

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