My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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calling Steve Jobs an opportunist

In Salon today, Cory calls Steve Jobs out on his coy efforts to throw up his hands and say “not my fault” when it comes to DRM.

Actions speak louder than words. Artists have asked — begged — Apple to sell their music without DRM for years. From individual bestselling acts like Barenaked Ladies to entire labels of copy-friendly music like Magnatune, innumerable copyright holders have asked Apple to sell their work as open MP3s instead of DRM-locked AACs. Apple has always maintained that it’s DRM or nothing. These artists believe that the answer to selling more music is cooperating with fans, not treating them as presumptive pirates and locking down their music.

As Cory rightly points out, if Jobs was sincere, he wouldn’t wrap Creative Commons publications in DRM and he wouldn’t prevent artists/labels from putting their music up as MP3s. By blaming everything on the corrupt music industrial complex, he’s trying to make himself look clean, but the truth is, his shit kinda stinks. For anyone interested in the issues surrounding DRM, music, and Apple, this article is a must read.

At the end of the day, DRM is the biggest impediment to a legitimate music market. Apple doesn’t sell music because of DRM — it sells music in spite of DRM. The iTunes Store proves that you can compete with free. People have bought billions of dollars worth of music from Apple because it offered a better user experience. But no one bought for the DRM. Some people bought in spite of it, some bought in ignorance of it, but there’s no customer for whom DRM is a selling point. No one woke up this morning wishing for a way to do less with her music.

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6 comments to calling Steve Jobs an opportunist

  • “Music industrial complex” I am glad to see this terminology getting out in the mainstream more. (Although I do recognize you are an academic, studying in this field, and thus… not so mainstream. Even this post is progress, because for awhile it was scarcely heard even in academic arenas, theorizing it would take away from serious issues like the prison industrial complex, and turn everything into an “industrial complex” thus losing its power. As more academics come the generation of digital music, whether consumers or creators, I think we will begin to see more discussion around this issue.

  • phil

    This appears out of place for you. I think you’re wonderful and smart when you stick to what you know. This post reveals that when you don’t, you’re not.

    You try to be the expert recommending the ONE article that people interested in “this issue” should read. That works for people who like to jump on “sticking-it-to-the-man’ points of view-which is what you seem to be doing-but won’t help them engage in a learned discussion of “this issue.”

  • pekpekshorts

    I smell fanboyism.

  • I would say “Steve” (as if I believed he actually controls all this stuff) is holding onto one, unified, simplified user experience for users above what is technically possible. I don’t see why Apple *could* not sell unprotected music along the DRM-protected music. But how could they avoid the confusion the non-bit-literate average person might encounter when some of the tracks work differently than others? Confusion is costly.

    Having produced and released some amount of music, even spent a week in the UK Top 40, I have absolutely no doubt in the ability of the big music industry to f**k things up. So if anyone is to blame, blame them, and give some credit to the people who try, even if they’re not perfect.

  • Steve

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about confusing the customer base between DRM and non-DRM music. Simple solution. Use a stoplight icon. Green light is non-DRM i.e. unrestricted. Red light is DRM i.e. there will be restrictions on this music – expect trouble if you do anything not utterly vanilla with it. Then put up an FAQ where the not entirely illiterate can explore this distinction in greater resolution.

    -Steve (not Jobs 🙂