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Pundits take sides in DRM battle as responses to Jobs fly

A call by Apple frontman Steve Jobs for a ceasefire in the DRM wars has only escalated the fight, with each side taking its own share of potshots — including a shot in the dark by the RIAA.

Tuesday's provocative open letter by Jobs has touched a nerve in the already sensitive area of music rights, producing reactions ranging from full support to outright dismissal.

Coming as a shock to little, the primary target of the letter — the Norwegian Consumer Council whose antitrust threats pose a serious risk to iTunes sales — wasn't easily fooled by the grassroots image.

"It's [the] iTunes Music Store that's providing a service to the consumers and therefore has the responsibility to offer up a consumer friendly product," said the Council's Torgeir Waterhouse. He welcomed the statement as a serious discussion of the problem but characterized the move as an attempt to shift the focus away from the lack of choice in music players for iTunes customers.

Some even argued that Jobs had not gone far enough, pressing him to back up his claims with immediate action. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was one of the first out of the gates with its opinion and urged the Apple CEO to put "his music store where his mouth is" by promptly stripping the Fairplay protection from independent music, much of which is sold on Bleep.com, eMusic, and other online stores without any DRM whatsoever.

Famed DVD protection cracker Jon Lech Johansen went so far as to research the issue and outline the practical reality for such an idea. "It should not take Apple’s iTunes team more than 2-3 days to implement a solution for not wrapping content with FairPlay when the content owner does not mandate DRM," he said. "Actions speak louder than words, Steve."

Predictably, the gatekeepers of DRM were quick to cling to their familiar bylines. Warner Music head Edgar Bronfman stopped just short of questioning Jobs' sanity: during a quarterly earnings conference call, he said the Apple frontman's suggestion of dropping copy protection was "completely without logic or merit." The Warner chief contended that the ideas of DRM and interoperability weren't mutually incompatible and that his label had every right to protect its files from illegal copies.

Other responses from proponents of the restrictions bordered on the comedic. In what was an example of either strange criticism or a baffling display of misinterpretation, the oft-maligned RIAA responded by welcoming the (non-existent) offer to license Fairplay to other companies, completely ignoring the discussion of eliminating DRM altogether.

SanDisk founder Eli Harari also produced unintended chuckles by penning his own open letter, which contradicted itself by at once claiming that music listeners deserved "the freedom to enjoy content on any device" while urging Jobs to be "less confrontational" and support the industry's lockdown on music.

Neither Jobs nor Apple spokespeople have offered a response to the criticism leveled against them.