Where Are the Digital Rights?

I’ve been getting considerable amounts of email from mac fanatics about yesterday’s piece on the new Apple music store. As a result, I’d like to expand on the subject (as I have to a few people via email today).

The problem that I have is not with Apple in particular but with the approach they are taking. At the current time, MP3 is the closest thing there is to a standard for sound on the Internet. To offer something that deviates is no a problem as long as that something is an open standard that can be implemented on other platforms by other people.

With the choice of AAC as the new standard, Apple is going the proprietary route and that’s what I disagree with. There are other standards out there that offer better compression than MP3 (Ogg Vorbis, for example, seems to be a good alternative and happens to be an open format. So while Apple is selling the “better compression, smaller size” gospel, its only interest in AAC is that it allows for them to lock things down for now as AAC is only supported in Quicktime and iTunes, two products offered by Apple.

Also not touted in yesterday’s announcement was any mention of Apple’s new DRM solution. According to an article on Sunspot.net, Apple was not that concerned about compression when it decided on AAC. The article mentions that Apple would forsake the familiar MP3 format, which lacks the ability to embed DRM, in favor of a DRM- capable format called Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). Whatever the extent of Apple’s DRM, it must be firm enough to quell the record companies’ fear of piracy. How come that part was left out of yesterday’s announcements?

The reason I am suspicious of the offering is that there is little mention anywhere as to why the music industry would license its music to Apple and give such a hard time to anyone else. My suspicion is that there are some agreements between Apple and the music industry that we are not made aware of. After all, why else would Hillary Rosen, head of the RIAA, call the service a fresh start in the whole online music scene?

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