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Comments: What is Fairplay?

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

By Applelinks Senior Editor John H. Farr

We're apparently behind the curve on this one, but it turns out that Apple does indeed have its own digital rights management (DRM) technology and it's known as "Fairplay." How it works with the new online music download service is like this ...

According to writer Arik Hesseldahl at Forbes.com, Apple has been developing Fairplay very quietly over the past year, probably so people like your editor would crucify Microsoft for mucking about in the same digital rights swamp while they got it right, or tried to. At least Apple seems to have been motivated by a principle other than "screw the consumer," for which we should all be very thankful. Basically, Fairplay allows you to do "things that generally you're already allowed to do with CDs," like make copies for backup purposes.

Hesseldahl describes the other rules of Fairplay as follows:

"You're also allowed to create a custom mix which, again, many used to do on cassette tapes, but in recent years has been the domain of the CD-R disc and the MP3 file. But with the new iTunes, you're limited to ten copies of a single playlist before you have to change it. That's Fairplay at work.

You're also allowed to listen to the music pretty much wherever you want. That may be on an iPod--you're allowed to put a song on an unlimited number of iPods--or on other computers. In the case of computers, you're limited to three, which should be enough for a computer at home, a computer at work and the laptop you travel with. Again, that is Fairplay at work."

This then is the basic formula that Apple sold to the music companies. That, plus a cut of the action, of course. There are some restrictions, but compared to what the Dark Side is working with, this is a joy. There's nothing in the above restrictions your editor couldn't live with, though we're sure someone will be happy to point out a drawback we hadn't thought of. That's as it should be, too, so speak right up.

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