Norway Says Apple's FairPlay DRM Isn't So Fair

from the crowbar-as-a-business-tool dept

Last year, the Norwegian Consumer Council filed some complaints about the terms of service of the iTunes Music Store. The council was unhappy with Apple’s response, and pressed on, and now the country’s consumer ombudsman says that the DRM used on ITMS purchases is illegal, because it doesn’t allow playback on any music players other than iPods. The ombudsman has given Apple three choices: it can license its FairPlay DRM to anybody that wants it, it can work with other companies to create an open DRM standard, or it can simply abandon DRM altogether. This sounds pretty similar to what French politicians had envisioned last year, when the parliament approved a law forcing Apple to open up. Apple’s reaction was that it would probably just stop selling music in France, and eventually the law was rendered relatively toothless. It’s not yet clear what the final outcome of this ruling will be, but once again, this provides Apple and the record labels with an opportunity to experiment with DRM-free sales and see how it effects their businesses. There’s no upside of DRM for consumers, despite what industry groups say, so you’d be hard pressed to argue that its inclusion helps sales in any way. With signs emerging that some of the labels are rethinking DRM, this decision in Norway could provide the impetus for them to abandon DRM there, and hopefully realize they’ve got more to gain by doing so than they have to lose by hanging on to it.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Norway Says Apple's FairPlay DRM Isn't So Fair”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Sanguine Dream says:

The longest journey begins...

Good idea just not big enough scale.

France tried to do something and it didnt work out. Norway appears to be taking a stab at it this time. I really don’t think this will force Apple into any postion it doesn’t want to be in but I think this could be a step in the direction of getting rid of DRM.

One big reason DRM hasn’t been done away with is that there hasn’t been a large enough body of people to stand up to the music industry. It’s gonna take a lot more than the government of a moderately sized nation to force a change. Now if the people and governments of France, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, Gernamy, Spain, and vast majority of the EU took a stand then something may happen. But until a large scale anti-DRM effort is mustered then big business will just continue to try buying the law.

tf says:

Anyone else think it’s strange that the Norwegian consumer group complains to the Ombudsman in January of ’06, then the Ombudsman officially pushes Apple in June, Apple responds in September, and now the consumer group again issues the same complaint in January ’07 with a following statement from the Ombudsman giving Apple until September ’07 to respond again?

(i.e., anyone think the Ombudsman claims are a bit more toothless than he purports?)

Also, back in June he claimed that other companies were doing the same and that he wasn’t targeting Apple, that other complaints against other companies would follow?

Where are they? In 6 months all we get is the SAME complaint against Apple ONLY!

The addition of France and Germany to the Norwegian consumer groups complaint is toothless. Unlike in Norway where there is allegedly some connection between the Ombudsman and the judicial system, these are just independent consumer groups. In fact, the French group already initiated an antitrust claim early last year which has gone nowhere. I would imagine an actual law suit would have more weight than adding your name to a complaint. (i.e. The French group already played a stronger card a year ago. The result: no progress in their case and a toothless law that hasn’t changed France.)

UniBoy says:

Apple and DRM

If the music industry and recording labels drop DRM, then Apple will almost certainly follow. As you say, DRM offers no benefit to consumers, and I think Apple recognizes that better than Microsoft, Sony, and others. That is the reason that FairPlay, while still undesirable, is at least more fair than those other DRM schemes.

My point is, this is not Apple’s decision. It is up to the record labels. Apple can not (yet?) act unilaterally to rid the world of DRM. Even if it is ultimately in everyone’s best interest.

Apple will probably just stop selling iTunes content in Norway. People there can still have their iPods, right? And Apple makes no money off of iTunes downloads anyway. So who loses in this? Only the recording industry and the Norwegian consumer who wanted to use iTunes, I think.

Xiera says:

I’m shocked that the WTO has not done anything with this yet. While I personally believe that Apple should be able to license its products in whatever way it wishes (knowing that consumers might go elsewhere because of the restrictions), this is clearly a case where they are limiting markets. Free trade would dictate that a consumer who uses iTunes to buy music should be able to use it on whatever device they wish. By only allowing iTunes music to be played on an iPod, they are essentially monopolising the mp3 player market (and the fact that products are designed for iPods and not other mp3 players surely does not help).

Personally, I think the WTO should be dissolved so that the markets can take care of themselves: allow the consumers to make the decisions. Most people think that some law-making body should intervene in these scenarios and I agree that if such a body exists (it does), it should actually do -something-.

In the meantime, the only way to really send the message to Apple is to get enough people dumping iTunes and looking for alternative music sources. A country the size of Norway may not be able to accomplish this (I’m rather surprised that France cannot make a dent), but an international effort would likely be more successful.

tf says:

“Free trade would dictate that a consumer who uses iTunes to buy music should be able to use it on whatever device they wish.”

The problem is: no solution creates this idealized scenario. PFS is still only supported on some devices, even if it is widely licensed, and it does not work on Macs and Linux at all. Real is open to licensing, but they’ve had very little success. Zune is entirely restricted in the same way as the Apple model.

Forcing any (and so far Norway and others are focusing on Apple despite their claims to the contrary) and all of these DRM providers to openly license their DRM would only create “some” compatibility while at the same time introducing some technological degradation (PFS has been admitted by Microsoft to be problematic)… So the result would be GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION to get only partial improvement (would all stores and all device manufacturers be FORCED to license all DRMs?) which actually impinges FAIR TRADE to benefit FAIR USE (I don’t know why fair use of media content is getting confused with Fair Trade) marginally and potentially hold back the development of the market when alternatives already exist (CDs, eMusic, allofmp3) and transferability is possible (via burning CDs).

Michael Long says:

More likely...

A more likely scenario, and one which the rumor sites seem to be collaborating, is that Apple will license FairPlay. This solves the Norwegian problem and several others elsewhere, would provide a revenue stream from other media players, allows more customers the opportunity to buy music from iTMS, and positions FairPlay, and not PlaysForSure, as the dominate technology in the marketplace.

While such a move might cannibalise some iPod sales, many a company has realized that it’s better to cannibalise your own sales than let some other company do it.

And since dropping DRM altogether is not Apple’s choice to make, this is really their only viable option.

tf says:

No, Michael, that’s a very unlikely scenario. The rumor you are citing is only that bridges and other devices could play back FairPlay tracks via the dock from the iPod, not that other stores or devices could license it. And this is only a rumor.

They have plenty of options. There is little reason to believe this could actually result in judicial or legislative interference yet. And if that does occur, Apple can simply pull out.

Michael Long says:

Re: More likely.

As I said, there are many reasons why it’s a good idea, and very little downside. First and foremost, it kills the vendor “lock-in” argument that’s arisen in Norway and elsewhere.

Second, while it has the potential to cannibalise pod sales, it’s unlikely to do so, as those likely to buy ipods will still buy ipods. Look at how HP failed to sell their own Apple-licensed pods. While I have no doubt that it may allow some media players to enroach upon Apple’s territory, they already do so, and this way allows Apple to make a profit (smaller to be sure, but still a profit) in the process.

In short, FairPlay could become (for better or worse) the “Windows” of the media player market.

UniBoy says:

Not likely...

FairPlay is managed in the iTunes application, not in the iPod. In order to “License FairPlay”, Apple would actually need to open up iTunes syncing so that other companies could make players that could sync your iTunes music library. So, the “standard” would become iTunes+iTMS+FairPlay, as opposed to FairPlay only.

That would be exceedingly nice for Apple. But I am not sure how many of their competitors would want to assist Apple with such an enterprise. This just so they might sell a few more MP3 players.

It does not make sense for Apple to license FairPlay because nobody would want it and it would not fix the real problem – other players cannot sync with iTunes.

tf says:

“First and foremost, it kills the vendor “lock-in” argument that’s arisen in Norway and elsewhere. “

So? Why would Apple care about someone else’s “problem”?

“Second, while it has the potential to cannibalise pod sales, it’s unlikely to do so, as those likely to buy ipods will still buy ipods.”

That’s your claim. The simple fact is: it can’t help.

“In short, FairPlay could become (for better or worse) the “Windows” of the media player market.”

It is anyways without the flaws of PFS.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...