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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 11:58 GMT
Apple seeks online music shake-up
iPods

Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, has urged the world's largest record companies to begin selling songs online without copy protection software.

He said the abolition of copy protection software known as digital rights management (DRM) would be good for consumers and music suppliers.

Copyright protection had failed to tackle piracy, he argued.

The firm behind the iPod has been under pressure to make its iTunes music store compatible with other music players.

It is clear that the record industry has some responsibility, but that does not relieve Apple of responsibility
Torgeir Waterhouse, senior adviser to Norway's Consumer Council

Consumer rights groups in several European countries have lodged complaints with the firm over the incompatibility of iTunes with other music players.

"We welcome Apple taking this problem seriously, and addressing it at such a high level," said Torgeir Waterhouse, senior adviser to Norway's Consumer Council.

'Best alternative'

The abolition of DRM would enable all MP3 users to access music from any online music store, including iTunes, Mr Jobs said.

"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat," he said in a statement on Apple's website.

Analysts said such a move would benefit Apple as the market leader in the digital music marketplace.

Apple's iTunes store has sold about 2 billion songs since launching in 2003, and accounts for more than 70% of the US digital music market.

Shared responsibility

Mr Jobs said that if DRM safeguards were dropped, Apple would be in a position to create a download system that could work with devices other than iPods, including Microsoft's recently launched Zune music player.

I think Steve is finally saying something he has wanted to say for a long time - he is not saying this just to grandstand, he really thinks this could open up the market
James McQuivey, Forrester Research analyst

He called on the world's four biggest music labels - Universal Music, EMI, Sony BMG Music and Warner Music - to begin selling their music catalogues without DRM restrictions.

But Norway's Consumer Council said the issues at stake here go beyond those Mr Jobs have chosen to highlight.

"It is clear that the record industry has some responsibility, but that does not relieve Apple of responsibility," said Mr Waterhouse.

EMI said it was considering Mr Jobs' views, while a spokesman for Universal Music declined to comment.

Music download site Emusic, which sells DRM-free songs in the universally compatible MP3 format, backed Mr Jobs' call for the major labels to drop their restrictions.

"DRM only serves to restrict consumer choice, prevents a larger digital music market from emerging and often makes consumers unwitting accomplices to the ambitions of technology companies," said Emusic boss David Pakman.

"Consumers prefer a world where the media they purchase is playable on any device, regardless of its manufacturer, and not burdened by arbitrary usage restrictions."

Responding to Mr Jobs' comments, Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said: "I think Steve is finally saying something he has wanted to say for a long time.

"He is not saying this just to grandstand. He really thinks this could open up the market."


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