How To Get Rid of DRM Effectively: Open Letter To Steve Jobs and The RIAA

This week Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggested that it would be a good idea to get rid of DRM. A great idea that most of us, except the RIAA, probably agree with. If the music industry ever wants to significantly reduce piracy, they need to offer a product that is at least equal in quality to pirated copies, and DRM supported music isn't.

The New York based intellectual property law attorney Bennett Lincoff shares this opinion and suggests a licensing system that would benefit both consumers and the music industry.

Lincoff sent us a copy of this open letter he wrote to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol, in which he suggests an alternative business model that could work for all parties.

Mr. Jobs says that DRM cannot effectively protect recorded music when it is transmitted digitally. He is right. The music industry’s many experiments with DRM have all met with effective technological countermeasures. Moreover, news of each successful hack quickly found its way to everyone who cared. There is no reason to believe that the results will be different next time, or ever.

For his part, Mr. Bainwol insists that DRM is essential to the music industry’s survival in the digital age.

The problem is that the Internet is fundamentally incompatible with the music industry’s traditional sales-based revenue model. Through the Internet, the market for sale of individual recordings can be saturated in a moment’s time and without payment of any royalties to songwriters, music publishers, recording artists or record labels. Neither law, nor technology, nor moral suasion will change this fact.

Mr. Jobs suggests, and I agree, that DRM should be abandoned as a tool for the protection of recorded music. However, before Mr. Jobs can implement his DRM-free utopia, the music industry must have a viable alternative business model by which it can continue to thrive. Mr. Jobs has not suggested one. Mr. Bainwol denies that one is needed; intending, instead, to continue efforts to preserve the industry’s sales-based revenue model. In any event, in the absence of an alternative business model suited for digital transmissions of recorded music, Mr. Bainwol cannot even begin to discuss the possible elimination of DRM.

I propose such an alternative in the attached White Paper (mirror).

Mine is a comprehensive approach to rights licensing and rights management that does not depend on the efficacy of exclusionary DRM technology for its success. A solution that simultaneously protects the integrity of copyright, promotes technological innovation, facilitates the growth of all manner of licensed digital audio services (including P2P), and meets consumer demand. In the aggregate, music industry rights holders would do no less well financially under my proposal than they do now under the system that my proposal would replace.

With this alternative business model in hand (which includes a plan for its implementation), there can be no further justification for the music industry’s failure to respond constructively to the changed circumstances imposed on it by emergence of the global digital communications network.

The paper (pdf and html) that is discussed in this letter is titled: “Fixing What’s Badly Broken: A Proposal to Maximize the Licensed Availability of Recorded Music for Digital Transmissions and to Make the Music Industry Whole Again as the Digital Music Marketplace Develops”

It starts with a very detailed and accurate analysis of the current situation, and then discusses the proposed license based revenue model.

The proposal is a great read, and one of the most comprehensive and realistic alternative I’ve seen so far. Let us know what you think.

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