Apple Fanboys had their orgiastic expo-tacular today, where new products are typically unveiled by His Steveness. Steve was absent today, part of the ongoing effort to confirm the internet rumors that he died in March of last year.
Nothing big was announced: a new laptop, upgrades to popular software suites iLife and iWork, pretty much what was expected. The big surprise for me was the announcement that iTunes would be going DRM-free. For those of you who don’t take the time to memorize every TLA that you come across, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s the thing that prevents you from emailing a song to a friend, or playing it on another computer, or taking advantage of any of the awesome powers granted to us by the digital era. It’s the industry’s lock and key.
I haven’t bought anything on iTunes for about 12 months, and DRM is exactly why. I love everything else about the Apple model, but I can’t abide having my audio files locked away, preventing me from doing things that are well within my legal rights to do (like playback on any device I own). I switched to the Amazon MP3 store because they offered a universal file format (mp3), and no DRM lockdown.
In some ways, I think Apple was paying the penalty for being first to market. They made a deal with the devil to get major record labels to agree to release their catalogs to the iTunes music store, and the price was DRM lockdown. Once the model proved successful, other distributors (amazon, for example) were able to negotiate much more favorable terms for their own download sales. Steve Jobs said as much almost two years ago.
I’m glad to see Apple unchain their content. I hope this marks a step forward into a new model of distribution for all kinds of digital media, from video to software.
I dream of a wireless, portable, personal, and highly fungible digital future, where my data moves with me and works for me, without barrier or constraint.