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Tuesday, February 06, 2007, 01:25 pm PT (04:25 pm ET)

Steve Jobs: Apple would embrace DRM-free music 'in a heartbeat'

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on Tuesday called upon the "big four" music companies to drop their anti-piracy restrictions and allow digital music tracks to be sold openly on the Internet for any brand of digital music player.

In a letter titled "Thoughts on Music" posted on Apple's website, Jobs addressed calls for the company to "open" the digital rights management (DRM) system that it uses to protect its music against theft, so that music purchased from iTunes can be played on digital devices purchased from other companies and vice versa.

Jobs said that one of the key provision of Apple's agreements with the music companies is that it repair breaches to its FairPlay DRM system promptly, a task which would prove "near impossible" should the company take the route of licensing the technology to multiple parties.

"If our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store," he wrote.

Of similar concern, said Jobs, is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, which would inevitably produce leaks.

"The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute," he wrote. "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."

As a result, Jobs said that 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." A more suitable alternative, he said, would be to abolish DRMs entirely, creating a world where every online store sells DRM-free music that would play on any digital music player from any company.

"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat," Jobs wrote. "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."