Defective by Design

An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Steve Jobs,

We would like to thank you for your public statements about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), and your pledge to drop DRM from iTunes if the four major record labels---EMI, Warner, Universal and Sony---let you.

As you know, the Free Software Foundation's campaign against DRM, DefectiveByDesign.org, has specifically targeted Apple since it launched in May 2006. As activists against DRM, we have supported these high-profile protests outside Apple stores in the US and in the UK because, as the largest purveyor of DRMed music, Apple carries a large part of the responsibility for the situation in which consumers now find themselves.

But Apple is under pressure not just from anti-DRM activists and from a consumer boycott of DRM, but also from consumer rights regulators in Europe who have declared iTunes's DRM (FairPlay) illegal. In Norway regulators have given you until October 1, 2007 to open up iTunes or be forced to close down under penalty of daily fines. Similar moves are being made by consumer regulators across Europe.

To many observers your blog pledge looks like a way to reduce pressure on Apple from these regulators, and head off calls from the industry to license FairPLay to other distributors.

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?

We have identified three ways you could show your sincerity about DRM. Taking action on any one of these fronts would be a powerful demonstration that you mean business.

1) Drop DRM on iTunes for independent artists

Many independent artists and labels distribute their music through iTunes and many wish to do so without DRM, but you won't let them. You could show good faith immediately by dropping DRM for those artists and labels.

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. Independent artists, who respect the desire of the fan to be free from DRM restrictions, will receive more support.

You can set the ethical example and be the first "major" to drop DRM, by freeing independent artists. You have the direct power to do this.

2) Drop DRM on iTunes for Disney movies and video

In your blog post you say, "[The] alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats." That is a powerful image, and one that we and the free software movement share with you. But why is your imagination limited to a world without DRM on music? You don't once mention movies or video.

We understand that Apple is busy signing contracts with movie studios and TV networks to allow Apple to sell video and movies to iPod users. These videos are delivered with DRM. The arguments that you make in your blog apply equally to movies as they do to music.

In 2006 you sold Pixar to Disney, and in the process became the largest single shareholder in Disney and joined the board of directors. Disney was the first to agree to distribute its movies through iTunes. Disney is a major movie distributor but not a major music publisher.

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.

3) Take a public stand against DRM and legislation mandating DRM by funding a campaign to repeal the Digital Millenium Copyright Act's (DMCA) prohibitions.

In your blog you say that we could "... abolish DRMs completely", and that Apple would "embrace it in a heartbeat". These words are very close to calling for DRM to be eliminated. We encourage you to make such a statement explicitly.

This is an important action because of the legislative threats we face. Senator Feinstein (D - Calif.), in this congressional session, has reintroduced the Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music Act (PERFORM Act). The Act would require webcasters who stream in MP3 (or other non-DRM formats) to impose DRM. This would include the radio stations currently available through iTunes, which currently rely on MP3 streams.

The impact of DRM and the DMCA will have chilling effects on our freedom of speech. 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.

As someone who has imposed a DRM scheme on millions of people and made millions of dollars doing so, it is time for you to take a stand against DRM as unethical and as a threat to our freedoms.

You can set the example by calling for the elimination of DRM and by funding a campaign to repeal the DMCA's prohibition on devices that overcome DRM. You have the direct power to do this.

While we welcome your pledge to drop DRM, action has yet to follow. Some changes you discuss will require the cooperation of other people in the media industry, but the three areas that we have outlined here do not. You have the full power to allow independent artists to sell their music on iTunes without DRM, to remove DRM from Disney videos and movies, and to fund a campaign to repeal the DMCA's prohibition on devices that overcome DRM. We, the undersigned, call upon you to take action now.

Yours Truly,

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