by Jason Snell
‘The RIAA v. Steve Jobs’
A remarkable blog post by Rogue Amoeba’s Paul Kafasis uncovers a key moment in the history of Apple and the recording industry:
At that time, our sales were slow enough that we often skimmed incoming orders to learn about who was buying. On September 30, 2003, exactly one year after we opened our virtual doors, an order with an RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] email address came through. That put a damper on our first anniversary celebrations, as we had full knowledge of the organization’s litigious history. We were naturally concerned that they were aware of our product. Unfortunately, there was nothing for us to do but feel uneasy and await their next move.
The late 90s and early 2000s were an interesting period when it came to Apple and the music industry. The rise of MP3s, CD burning, and peer-to-peer file sharing meant that piracy had gone digital—but many of those technologies could also be used for legal purposes, enabling iTunes and the iPod and creating mix CDs from your own music collection.
As is traditional, industries reacted to the new technologies with fear and tried to stamp them out. Which is why foundational podcast creator and former MTV VJ Adam Curry’s recent podcast interview, quoted by Kafasis, is so fascinating. Curry:
Steve asked: “How do you do your recording?” We didn’t really have any tools to record, there was not much going on at the time. But the Mac had an application called Audio Hijack Pro, and it was great because we could create audio chains with compressors, and replicate a bit of studio work.
Eddy Cue said: “The RIAA wants us to disable Audio Hijack Pro, because with it you could record any sound off of your Mac, any song, anything.” Steve then turned to me and said: “Do you need this to create these podcasts?” I said: “Currently, yes!”. So Steve Jobs told them to get lost.
This worldview was pretty much Apple’s take at the time when it was accused of encouraging piracy: While people might use its technology to violate licenses and break the law, the technology itself had valid, legitimate uses, and therefore Apple wouldn’t limit the utility of its products just because some people would do things with them that groups like the RIAA didn’t like.
Was Steve Jobs well aware that they were enabling piracy when they started the “Rip, Mix, Burn” ad campaign? Of course. Did the iPod make it easy to take songs downloaded from Napster on the go? It sure did. (So much so that at the iPod launch event, it literally gave journalists CDs along with their review iPods so that they wouldn’t be accused of pirating music.)
But Jobs and Apple also saw the bigger picture, and the world is better for it.