Apple CEO Steve Jobs posted a letter today on the Hot News section of Apple.com. In the letter, entitled "Thoughts on Music", Jobs talks about the history of digital rights management (DRM) and the iTunes store, explaining that the impetus for DRM came from the Big 4 group of music companies (Sony BMG, EMI, Warner and Universal), who together control the rights to 70% of the world's commercially-produced music. When Apple first proposed the idea of the iTunes store to the Big 4, they demanded the inclusion of DRM because it was in the days of post-Napster and they were trying to do their best to stop piracy, continue dominating the market, etc. (which is a for a whole other time).
Fast-forward to the present. Jobs estimates that sales of DRM-protected music account for about 3% of the total amount of music taking up space on an iPod (the rest being from non-DRM sources like CDs, which make up the bulk of the Big 4's revenue), which he extrapolates to mean that the entire market is about 3% DRM-protected and 97% DRM-free. Since, as he rightly points out, the Big 4 can't put DRM on their CDs – the technology would lock out the average CD player, killing sales – and DRM-protected music makes up such a small portion of total revenue, why not do away with DRM altogether and give the consumer the option to play the music files they bought anywhere they want?
While it's clear from the letter that neither Steve Jobs nor Apple has the power to make this very nice situation happen, I like the effort. If nothing else, the end of DRM means music files that are easier to play no matter what, leading to a better experience for consumers and, presumably, higher sales. To be sure, music piracy will be much easier to accomplish, but as Jobs notes in the letter, all someone needs to do to share music now is to rip a CD and post the files on the Internet. Getting rid of DRM would facilitate the legal purchase of music without adding any real risk to the Big 4 or any other music company.