The head of a recording industry group called on Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs to open up his company's anti-piracy technology to rivals instead of asking record companies to remove copy protections from downloadable music files.
Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the move would open the market and allow fans to play songs bought at Apple's iTunes Music Store on devices other than the company's iPod.
"We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen," Bainwol said in a prepared statement.
Bainwol's comments come in response to an open letter Jobs published Tuesday urging record companies to abolish the digital rights management (DRM) technology.
Jobs made the call as Apple's iTunes store faces pressure from European consumer groups because DRM technology on songs purchased and downloaded from the site will only play on Apple's iPod and not rival players. Regulators in Norway recently deemed the practice illegal and gave Apple until September to change its policies.
"If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store," Jobs said.
DRM technology is meant to stop people from duplicating music or video and burning it to disc or uploading it to the internet. Consumers have complained about the limits the technology puts on the music they legally purchase, but software manufacturers and record companies have continued to use it.
'DRM is not working'
Several analysts suggested the record companies should follow Jobs' suggestion.
"Clearly, DRM is not working," said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It sends a message to the customer that 'we don't trust you.'"
Phil Leigh, senior analyst at Inside Digital Media, added that removing copy restraints would give the labels' music more exposure.
Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson countered that software manufacturers should come up with their own industry-wide DRM standard if they want to create a market free of piracy.
"Eliminating online DRM appears to us to be an overly risky move that eliminates the potential for a future digital-only distribution model free of piracy," Mitchelson wrote in a research note.
Jobs' criticisms are similar to statements that Microsoft founder Bill Gates made to a group of bloggers in December. Gates admitted no one was satisfied with the current state of DRM.
He also advised consumers their best option was often to "buy a CD and rip it." But Gates defended the idea behind DRM, saying incentive systems make a difference.