Lurking at the heart of some of the Internet Governance issues is the trade-off between fair use and intellectual property protection. Nowhere is this more active than in the matter of downloadable music and peer-to-peer exchanges of MP3 files. Recent stories have included a counter-suit by a teenager in New York of the Recording Industry of America Association, which itself has become notorious for sueing grandmothers for illegal sharing of music files.
Now, into the dispute has come Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, who has published a letter calling for the elimination of digital rights management (DRM) systems for music downloaded from commercial sites. ( Jobs, whose iTunes system has been criticized in Europe because the DRM used for Applie is not compatible with MP3 players produced by other companies, proposes a simple solution: eliminate DRM systems altogether. While I am aware of one of Murphy's Laws that states “for every complex problem, there is a simple solution that will not work”, this may be one that will work. I checked with my two sons, both of whom work in the music industry and they agree that Jobs is probably right.
Jobs argument is that in the non-Internet music business, CDs are sold without DRM system (and when Sony tried to sneak one into some CDs, they were burned). If that is the case, what is the problem with selling on-line music without DRMs? The music industry has quickly rejected Jobs proposal, ( although that clearly is not the last word. The industry people argue that it would be better to have a common DRM standard, to which Jobs would parry, “that could easily be hacked”.
There is a broader issue here, one that should be discussed in the IGF: what does fair use mean in the Internet? It goes beyond sharing of music files and obviously includes such matters as access to academic journal articles, YouTube videos and the like. There are some straight normative issues, but there are also economic questions (is a non-DRM business plan likely to be more profitable than a DRM-based plan?) This is something that can't be answered by rhetoric, but rather needs serious research and analysis.