Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why Apple can't license Fair Play

Sometime in the past month I mentioned in a blog posting that DRM solutions require absolute control of the hardware chain. (update: it was 9/06, when iTunes stopped supporting the ROKR -- the only non-Apple FairPlay client - seems like I wrote that only yesterday ....) Today Apple (allegedly Steve Jobs) said the same thing:
Apple - Thoughts on Music

...The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute. Such leaks can rapidly result in software programs available as free downloads on the Internet which will disable the DRM protection so that formerly protected songs can be played on unauthorized players.

An equally serious problem is how to quickly repair the damage caused by such a leak. A successful repair will likely involve enhancing the music store software, the music jukebox software, and the software in the players with new secrets, then transferring this updated software into the tens (or hundreds) of millions of Macs, Windows PCs and players already in use. This must all be done quickly and in a very coordinated way. Such an undertaking is very difficult when just one company controls all of the pieces. It is near impossible if multiple companies control separate pieces of the puzzle, and all of them must quickly act in concert to repair the damage from a leak.

Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies. Perhaps this same conclusion contributed to Microsoft’s recent decision to switch their emphasis from an “open” model of licensing their DRM to others to a “closed” model of offering a proprietary music store, proprietary jukebox software and proprietary players.
In this case, I think Apple is telling the truth. Of course they've known this all along -- though you have to wonder about the ROKR fiasco. The situation for movies is even worse. You can be sure someone is storing all the currently encrypted movies they can find, knowing that sometime in the next five years they'll be able to hack them all at once.

Apple is saying that the music owners have to give up on DRM. I'm sure they'll agree ... :-)

More on DRM. Also, see my 2005 post on how DRM wrecked my media center experiments.

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