European governments are a bunch of fucks.

That is a pure, observable fact, clearly demonstrated in a multitude of ways. And there’s no better example to prove my point about European governments being a bunch of fucks than to describe the attitudes of France, Germany and Norway toward Apple Inc. in the past couple of years, primarily because Apple is extraordinarily successful (and we all know how Europeans hate success).

You may or may not be aware or understand the concept of Digital Rights Management (DRM) or how it works, but this post is about a breach of liberty as significant as all other infringements of rights by government, and I’ll do my best to explain it in layman’s terms.

It all started when a flock of French lawmakers found out that Apple had rules about what one can do with a song downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, including the restriction that such songs can only be played on Apple’s own music player, the iPod. A song downloaded from iTunes will not work on one of Microsoft’s Zune players, for example. And the European governments don’t like this, because Apple is by far the largest online music retailer, and its iPod is by far the biggest-selling music player, and that’s the entire problem: the company is too successful for the European governments. They regard Apple’s position a monopoly to be ‘taken care of’.

You may recall my aggravation in Snapshots of Reason 5 when I commented that “The Fatuous French don’t like to see an American company taking over an entire market in Europe, especially when it’s the result of sheer excellence, especially when it’s a significant, defining product like the iPod, the result of American ingenuity and innovation.”

When Apple invented the iPod and iTunes, they found themselves with a very successful product. No-one had ever succeeded in creating a legal music download site before; only illegal ones existed. Apple invested in unprecedented, painstaking negotiations with the ‘big four’ music companies (Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI) to find an online business model that would work, firstly, and that would satisfy the music companies, who were concerned about piracy. A music store without music would not a music store be.

To get any kind of agreement from the music companies, who are a bunch of technophobes, was brilliant. But to alleviate their concerns about piracy, Apple had to do what they do best: get creative. The company invested in and created, from the ground up, a proprietary encryption system for music files called DRM (Digital Rights Management). This would allow Apple to encrypt the music files with restrictions on what could be done with those music files once downloaded from iTunes; they could only be burned to CD a total of 5 times, for example. And they could only be played on the iPod, where Apple could control the situation to the satisfaction of the music companies, hoping to prevent piracy. It worked. Over a billion songs to date have been purchased and downloaded from iTunes at a cost of $0.99 each.

A great business model. Ingenious. A lot of hard work. A big payoff, and well deserved. What a feat. Right?

Not from the standpoint of the bunch of fucks who are elected to run the governments of Europe. Norway’s consumer ombudsman ruled in late January that iTunes is ILLEGAL because it does not allow downloaded songs to be played on rival devices like the Zune… ILLEGAL. Germany is “considering” the situation. France, which was first to bitch about it, still has issues. Finland is reviewing legal options.

This state-sponsored piracy, sabotage and thuggery has not gone unnoticed by Apple, as you’d imagine. The corporation’s brilliant founder and CEO Steve Jobs issued a press release yesterday with the typically casual title, “Thoughts on Music”. In it, he all but admits that he isn’t a big fan of DRM, and would prefer that it wasn’t necessary. Who would disagree, other than the music companies?

He describes his alternative as the option “…to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.”

He says the music companies should agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using a DRM system to protect it because “…DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.” He cites the billions of CDs sold each year by the music companies themselves with no DRM protection whatsoever, and asks, “…If the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free [on CD], what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none.”

Finally, he gets a dig at the fucks in Europe who want force his iTunes business model into non-existence: “Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries.  Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.  For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard.  The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company.  EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company.  Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace.  Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.”

In other words:

‘You fucks. Who the hell do you think you are? I worked harder than you would in forty lifetimes to create the possibility of online music distribution, and you come along with your sagging, behemoth of a bureaucracy to “help the consumer” by taking away the very system that made it possible for them to enjoy online music in the first place? If you folks had one more braincell you’d be an amino acid. You should be kissing my geeky white beanbag! What delusions of adequacy makes you think you have the right to impose on my company like this?

‘What have YOU ever created, except the impression that you’re actually doing something worth whatever your dumb citizens are paying you? What do you sleazebags think they elected you for? You use the law like a truncheon to beat the living shit out of any common sense and basic rights that may have survived your trainwreck of an establishment. I’m almost impressed by the quantity of sheer willpower it must take to disfigure every good innovation of the private sector in such an impulsive manner. You’re more of a disease than a government really: everything you touch falls ill. You make European legislation reek with the stench of judicial sickness, like the rotting limb of socialism, which you’re using to try and kick me up the ass.

‘You dirty, lamebrain, sub-cogent, scumbag, nauseating, craven, toadstool, heedless, feckless, cocky, barefaced fucks.’

Read the rest of Jobs’ statement here.

John Wright