Why Apple is to blame for iTunes DRM

EFF Staff Technologist Seth Schoen has written a great blog-post on the Defective By Design campaign, which stages public anti-DRM protests in hazmat suits. So far, the campaign has targeted a Bill Gates keynote speech at WinHEC in Seattle, and Apple stores across the US over the iPod's use of DRM. As Seth notes, "the fame of the 'Mac/PC' platform rivalry — just like the 'Democrat/Republican' rivalry — is an obstacle to learning about new issues. If anyone criticizes Apple for labor issues (as a recent article did) or Microsoft for using digital rights management, the prominence of 'Mac vs. PC' makes the general public assume that the critic wants everyone to switch to 'the other platform'".

Many Apple fans were upset that Defective by Design targeted iTunes/iPod DRM, claiming that Apple can't be held responsible for its decision to use its technology to control instead of empower its customers. Seth expertly addresses each of these arguments, showing that Apple's embrace of DRM has been enthusiastic, abusive and thoroughgoing, not merely a necessity of the market.

Record labels, not Apple, are to blame: There's a lot of blame to go around, but an Apple lawyer said publicly that Apple would not abandon FairPlay restrictions if the record labels gave it permission to do so. A music industry trade association in the U.K. has stated that Apple's use of FairPlay is a competitive problem (although it does not necessarily agree with Defective By Design that the use of DRM in general is a problem). And Apple is now actively supporting legislation that prevents people from working around these restrictions. Did the record labels require Apple to do that?

Apple competitors are hypocritical because they also create (or want to create) proprietary products that prevent interoperability: That's often the case, so we need to get in the habit of criticizing everyone for doing this and try to help the press understand (as BusinessWeek understood) that there are people whose objections run deeper than any one company's business strategy.

Users can choose other products: That's the main thing that the Defective By Design protest was encouraging people to do. The most common position among protestors is not necessarily that there should be an antitrust investigation of Apple, but that users should stop feeling sympathetic to Apple's business strategy and that the law should stop protecting it by threatening technologies that create interoperability.