Not Good: Jobs Changes The iTunes Rules

by Hadley Stern May 03, 2004

I don’t know about you but when I invest in a certain type of media I don’t expect the rules to be randomly changed on me. While Apple’s recent change to the Digital Rights Management (DRM) agreement may seem benign the changes, by their very existence, are a dangerous precedent.

Imagine, after building up a 100 odd CD collection being told that, from now on, the CD’s that you buy now cannot be played in your car? Absurd? By treating iTunes songs as software Apple has reminded all of us that the rules can, and will change. While changing the rules from 10 burns to 7 burns isn’t a big deal this isn’t the point. The point is that as consumers we cannot rely on the iTunes music store being a stable entity. What if the record labels start to get, as they are prone to, even more irrationally paranoid and decide that we can only use our songs on one machine, burn them once, and listen to them on an iPod? Irrational? Yes. Improbable? Perhaps. But entirely plausible.

Just like the Compact Disc was based on a series of standards the digital music file needs a standard set of rules and fast. Maybe this is a time when government intervention is necessary to corral the myriad interests together. The format shouldnt matter (although it would be nice if there was a standard format) but the rules should. How many times can a file be burned and how many devices it can be played on should all be established keeping in the mind the interests of the consumer and the music industry.

Steve Jobs has done a wonderful job monetizing and legitimizing digital music. However, by suddenly announcing that the rules are changing, albeit (for now) in a minor way, Jobs has reminded us that we are not buying CD’s. Indeed, while Jobs is proud to boast that people don’t like to rent music (a la the subscription model) by changing the rules us iTunes’s consumers are made to feel more like renter’s than purchasers. I’ll continue to purchase music from the iTunes music store because I have faith that Apple will do the right thing. I’m just a little less comfortable now that the rules have been changed on me.


  • While you raise an interesting point, I believe this change was made as heavily requested by the iTunes user base.

    Allowing only 3 computers to be authorized is simply not good enough. We have 4 computers in our house so one wouldn’t work with this scheme. I think 5 is much better.

    I don’t see this as anything but a big improvement for the honest user. That to me is what Apple is trying to achieve here. I hope it ain’t stable. I hope Apple keeps making changes like this that improve the use of iTunes.

    Just my two cents. Enjoyed reading yours.

    kcmac had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 1
  • Yeah, it sucks. I was into buying music from iTMS, but I stopped. I like the flexibility of owning the CD more than the convenience of downloading it instantly.

    The MacDaddy had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 6
  • I share your concern and I likewise agree that to evaluate the merits of this particular change in the rules is not as important as the precedent for having the rules change at all. These paradigm shifts can get expensive, and customers need to rely on their stability. It’s bad enough we must pay more and more for the same music we already own, (such as to convert from LP to CD and then from CD to digital files), but it’s worse yet if the technology we embrace becomes a moving target. (To add insult to injury, an audiophile will tell you that with each shift—as technology supposedly moves forward—the audio quality only gets WORSE.)

    Since we are dealing with software, though, I’m not opposed to holding the ITMS, iTunes, iPod, etc., to the same standards and conventions as all other software—which is only to say that any changes made (in the rules) should be an unmistakeable and undisputed improvement. Examples of this are improved audio quality, improved compression (without loss of quality), more flexibility on file formats, support for more output devices, better network support, lower price, etc. Any changes in the opposite direction are unacceptable for the very reasons you cite—namely that they will instill a lack of confidence in the whole model altogether and customers will (rightly) be gunshy about embracing it.

    We must have confidence in the integrity of a model or it will spell the death of that model.

    Jeff Mincey

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 74
  • Just as one willingly accepted the original contract with the iTMS, one can willingly accept or decline the new contract (Terms of Service). No one is forcing you to upgrade nor is the previous version made suddenly inoperable.

    iTunes 4.2 still works quite nicely with previously purchased music (and even with some new stuff that I just purchased after 4.5 came out).

    Tony T had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 19
  • Tony T, this question of being “forced” to do something is a red herring. One can use that rationale to defend almost anything. For example, if you didn’t like the fact that iTunes 4.2 disabled the internet sharing feature, no one was “forcing” you to upgrade; you could stick with version 4.0 instead. And if you didn’t like something about version 4.0, you could always stick with version 3.x, because, after all, no one is forcing you.

    Likewise, if someone doesn’t like OS X, then they can stick with OS 9 because no one is forcing them to upgrade—ad infinitum.

    The point is not whether the customer is being forced by Apple; rather the point is whether this policy of changing the terms willy nilly is WISE or not. Besides, in the world of software, people can stick with older versions only so long before—for all practical purposes—they ARE forced to upgrade in order to continue to function. So it’s really a moot point.

    Apart from that, do you know for a fact that under iTunes 4.2 you can burn a set of songs to 10 CD’s according to the terms of the original terms of service? Sure, with your EXISTING inventory of AAC files, I’m sure you can do so, but for many newly encoded AAC files from ITMS this may not be possible—not even with iTunes 4.2. So even by sticking with an older version, you may still fall victim to these changing rules—at least to a degree.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 74
  • One more thing. For those interested in the issue of the downward spiral of audio quality for digital content, let me refer you to this url:

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 74
  • Hadley, the sterophile url I supply above touches on this question, but I don’t regard it as the definitive word so I look forward to hearing from someone who has actually put this to the test.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 74
  • Youi can burn as many copies of a tune as you like.  Just not in the same position in the same playlist after 7 burns.

    I’ve never needed more than 7 copies of a specific playlist, let alone 10 so I’ve never tested the limits.  But it seems that if you delete the playlist, create a new playlist with a different name and add back the tunes in the same order you probably won’t have a problem.

    ginjg had this to say on May 03, 2004 Posts: 1
  • To ginjg, what you say is true, but you are missing the point. Sure, THIS time the change in rules is not so egregious. But the larger issue is that Apple reserves the right to change the rules in the middle of the game.

    When we purchase a CD from a retail store, we don’t have to worry that the digital files on the CD will suddenly transform their formats or that our existing CD players will refuse to play them. The terms of sale are constant and trustworthy. Not so with purchases from ITMS however—and it is THIS which raises a concern.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 74
  • Jeff M,

    The only time one is forced to upgrade is if you change the status quo, e.g. expect the “old” SW to work on a new machine (etc.) or upgrade the underlying OS or some other application or new HW (e.g. iPod+).

    As for the wisdom of the changes, I doubt they are “willy-nilly”. I have no evidence, but personally suspect that Apple renogotiated with the record companies toincrease the number of computers (in response to customer demand) and backed down the number of repeated, identical burns (in response to the Record Company demands). Give/Take.

    The analogy that you draw to a CD purchase is analogous to my saying don’t upgrade the iTunes SW/HW. Look at the new CD (secure) formats being tested (and rejected by the market) to see that future purchases may not work with old HW. 

    Likewise music previously purchased from ITMS will continue to operate under the old contract terms with 4.2.

    I ugraded my music collection to CDs long ago, but I don’t complain that my old record player won’t play CDs nor that my LPs will not work with my CD player.

    Apple, and many others, reserve the right to change the rules. Sometimes they do. If you don’t like it don’t accept the changes and if enough other users follow suit, then maybe the changes will be undone. 

    Back to the wisdom of the move, do you really think it was willy-nilly? No attempt at a greater good? Just Jobs being capricious?

    Tony T had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 19
  • I think we need to remember one thing.  iTunes is only one year old.  Think what you want, but this whole thing still well qualifies as a “work in progress”.
    I feel not only did Jobs address the issues with the record labels, but the issues with the customers as well.
    As long as the voice of the customer is always heard, I feel that Apple will not end up in the pockets of the record labels.  With such a culture around the iPod, I think Apple will understand that any change will receive fundamental feedback, both positive and negative.  And most will be listened to.

    JeffyC had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 18
  • To Tony T and JeffyC, I understand your points, but let me point out that I don’t object to changes in ITMS—provided they represent an unequivocal step forward for the consumer—to wit, that the quality, flexibilty, options, etc., have all been expanded rather than contracted.

    Suppose you contract with me to provide a product or service to you at a certain rate. Would you agree to any contract in which I alone would reserve the right to change the terms with no notice to or approval by you—and yet you would be bound by these terms henceforth (or perhaps retroactively as well)? Would you agree to such a contract?

    Steve Jobs likes to differentiate ITMS from other services by saying that consumers want to OWN their own music—and not merely rent it. Well, ownership implies control. And while we don’t own the CONTENT of the files we download from ITMS, we DO own—or SHOULD own—the files themselves. The files are not copyrighted; it’s only their content which is protected by copyright.

    Consider the model of buying a book from a retail store. While we don’t own the text and photographs in the book, we DO own the binding and the paper and the ink. The retail store does not presume to dictate to us any terms of the use of that book—and we are limited only at that point by copyright law. Why should it be any different for ITMS?

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 74
  • Jeff Mincey: point well made.

    The MacDaddy had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 6
  • Jeff Mincey, I understand your desire to support only changes beneficial to the consumer, but being too naive in that respect leads, in extremis, to the problems of illegal downloads. What is more beneficial, in the short term, to the consumer than free product? I think Apple is trying to juggle this balance for us. I am actually quite glad to surrender 3 additional burns for 2 additional computers. I saw it as an improvement.

    The best article along any of these subjects I have seen was a commentary (elsewhere on the web today) contrasting the pricing discrepancy between ITMS and providing the physical CD.

    I, too, hope that in the long term as digital distribution becomes easier and more common then the RIAA will get squeezed out.

    As a consumer, if you want to help this along, purchase more of the ITMS “Exclusive Tracks”.

    Tony T had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 19
  • I can tell Jeff Mincey is a very intelligent person whos opinion can be valued, but… we not all realise that the reason iTunes exsistes is through compromise.  It is unfortuniate that music piracy has forced the industry to tighten the chains, but if Apple didn’t or wouldn’t make these compromises, I doubt this service would or could exsist.

    And to comment on Apple being its own “label”........I would like to have access to 1 million songs next year….....not 1,000.  We all know the labels control their CONTRACTED artists, and to think musicians will break that to be a cheaper download is a bit out there in “ideal-land”.  The pressure needs to go to the labels to understand the overall profitability of a download compared to a manufactured cd.

    I respect all the comments here and know truly intelligent thought went into all

    Thank you

    JeffyC had this to say on May 04, 2004 Posts: 18
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