When Apple released the latest version of the iTunes Music Store along with iTunes 4.5, it introduced a lot of features that I like a lot. On Windows and Mac, iTunes remains my favourite music application, thanks to its ease of use and features. And, in a sense, I’ve already tied myself to Apple technology here, as I’ve just finished ripping every CD I own to AAC, rather than MP3 or WMA.
But with this release, Apple also did something that illustrates why, despite my liking for Apple, I’m uneasy about the FairPlay DRM used by the iTunes Music Store: it changed the rights that consumers have when buying songs from the store, changing the number of times a playlist can be burned to CD from 10 to 7, and the number of machines that you can use a song on from three to five.
On balance, and for me in particular as I burn CDs about once a year, that’s probably good news for customers, giving a better balance of rights. But the key point isn’t that I got more rights: it’s that Apple could vary the rights on music I have already bought. It’s as if I’d bought a CD, and suddenly the record company called me up and said I could now only play it during the week, and if I wanted to hear that music at the weekend, I’d have to buy another copy.
It also gives the lie to Jobs’ consistent attack on subscription services. A classic example of Jobs’ view is this quote, from Rolling Stone:
People don’t want to buy their music as a subscription. They bought 45’s; then they bought LP’s; then they bought cassettes; then they bought 8-tracks; then they bought CD’s. They’re going to want to buy downloads. People want to own their music. You don’t want to rent your music – and then, one day, if you stop paying, all your music goes away.
Jobs is right: people want to own their music. But that means NOT having what you can do with it changed at will by a record company or, for that matter, a computer company. Jason Schultz hits the nail on the head, finding the relevant passage in Apple’s iTunes license:
Any burning or exporting capabilities are solely an accommodation to you and shall not constitute a grant or waiver (or other limitation or implication) of any rights of the copyright owners of any content, sound recording, underlying musical composition or artwork embodied in any Product.
In other words, although they won’t take your music away from you, what you can do with it is up to them. Hardly owning your music, is it?
FairPlay is a compromise, and one that’s more consumer-friendly than the equivalent in Windows Media or any other system. But it does represent a change in your rights compared to buying a CD, and ultimately it means you no longer own your music. Much as I love the convenience of the iTunes Store (and I’m looking forward to its European launch), that’s why I’ll carry on buying CDs and ripping them instead, or buying from those brave and forward-thinking companies (like Warp Records) that will sell you an un-DRM’d file.