SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs asked the four largest music companies to license songs for online distribution without copy protection software so music purchased online can be played across multiple devices.
The decision on whether to remove so-called digital rights management, or DRM, software to prevent copying of music files is up to Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and EMI Group Plc, Jobs said in an open letter posted yesterday on Apple's website.
Jobs said the companies, which together control rights to more than 70 percent of the world's music, required Apple to create a DRM system for its iTunes store as a condition to selling their music online. Songs purchased on iTunes only play on Apple's iPod device, while music bought from rival sites is tied to gadgets that work with their DRM systems, he said.
"When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied," Jobs said. "Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly."
Shares of Cupertino, Calif. -based Apple rose 21 cents to $84.15.
ITunes, started in 2003, is the most popular legal site for music downloads and offers more than 4 million songs.
The plea from Jobs comes as iTunes faces criticism in Europe, with Norway last month calling the online store illegal because songs purchased from the service only work with the iPod.
Noting that much of the concern over rights management systems is in Europe, Jobs urged critics of such software to "redirect their energies" toward the four major record labels and persuade them to sell music that is DRM-free.
"Apple has very neatly deflected many of the DRM issues from themselves and is putting the burden and the blame on the record companies," Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with JupiterResearch in New York, said. "Mr. Jobs laid out a very cogent argument in terms of why there are DRM protections on their products and why there will continue to be DRM across the board until the record companies change their tune."
Removing digital rights management would boost online music sales and allow consumers to move songs among devices, Jobs said. Online music sales doubled to about $2 billion last year, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry in London said.