I’m a big fan of Apple. However, they just announced a new offering that, although small in scope, seems to be a big departure from their usual approach, and it worries me. They announced that, for an extra 99 cents, you can take a song and turn it into a ringtone for the Apple iPhone. Some people are already asking “wait, why 99 cents more when I’ve already paid for the song?” Here’s an explanation by Phil Schiller, VP at Apple:
Well, we’ve worked with content owners to make sure that the content that you purchase a ringtone for has the proper rights associated with turning it into a ringtone. And, so–
Interviewer: So there are different rights if you want to make it a ringtone?
Interiewer: If you want to make it a ringtone you have to go through a different set of rights?
Sure, the labels and publishers get the rights for songs to be remade into a ringtone. So part of what we do is to work with those content owners to make sure that there are rights in place for every piece of content to be made into a ringtone.
Really? A different set of rights? For playing a song I’ve already purchased on hardware I own for personal use? How so? Do I have to pay extra to play my CD as an alarm clock in the morning?
According to the content folks, DRM is about preventing piracy. But this is a shift. This is now about creating a tightly controlled platform so the content companies can monetize more segments of your life. Sure you bought the song for your ipod, but you didn’t buy it for the purpose of using it as a ringtone, that’ll be another 99 cents. Oh you want to play it on your car stereo? Another 99 cents. Wait, you’re playing the song after 11pm? That’s gonna cost extra.
Sure, lots of other companies have done this before. Cell phone carriers charge you $2 to get a ringtone, and they don’t let you create your own from the CDs you’ve already purchased. But up until today, Apple has been one of the semi-good guys fighting this controlling aspect of DRM. They allow you to play a song on any number of devices, burn to CD a reasonable number of times, and even share with up to 5 computers. The limits they’ve placed are typically not encountered by the average user… unless the user is trying to violate copyright law.
But this is a change. It may not be noticeable because it’s a small announcement, but there’s a qualitative shift where Apple is letting DRM become a platform for controlling users. I don’t like it, and I sincerely hope they reconsider this direction.