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The Book of Jobs

t·s been a really good week to be Steve Jobs.


First, the French National Assembly backed off proposed legislation that would have required Apple·s iTunes songs and iPods to be interoperable with other manufacturers· MP3 players and other distributors· song-file formats. The abandoned legislation, described in some detail here last month, would have been groundbreaking and generally good for consumers and the forward march of digital music. But Jobs declared the laws ·state-sponsored theft· and threatened to pull iTunes out of France, and the French did what they do best. They surrendered!

Then, Apple announced that it had re-upped it·s 99-cents-per-song pricing scheme with all of its music suppliers for the foreseeable future. This issue, described in some detail here two months ago, pitted all the major labels in a steel-cage death match with Steve Jobs. Warner·s CEO Edgar Bronfman, particularly, took some pretty personal shots at Jobs, and all of the labels were maneuvering to move the digital price-point up. And who can blame them? The labels were used to shaking people down for $10 to $15 to buy a CD with their favorite song on it. Now people can get the song for 99 cents. In any event, despite the simple fact that all songs are not worth 99 cents, and that a uniform pricing scheme defies even the most basic logic, Jobs won. The press releases went out, and calls to the labels went unreturned. Clearly, Jobs had landed some solid pimp-slaps behind closed doors.

A few days later, a British judge ruled that Apple·s iTunes store did not violate the terms of a 1991 agreement Apple had made with the Beatles· Apple Corps, Ltd. to stay out of the music business. The lawsuit, discussed here two weeks ago, centered on whether selling digital files would be characterized as the sale of a physical product. In a crisp, 34-page decision (which I found posted at www.thinksecret.com), the judge made, essentially, a series of judgment calls that reasonable consumers would not think that Apple was a record company, and that Apple·s use of its Apple logo in conjunction with the iTunes store was not unfair and didn·t ·cross the line· with regard to the 1991 agreement. But don·t hang out at the iTunes store waiting for Beatles songs to finally show up there anytime soon·this one is probably far from over. Apple Corps said it·s going to appeal the ruling, and the coin-toss-like decision could very easily flip the other way. And I don·t know squat about the British judicial system, but I read that after a determination by an appellate court the case could wind up before the House of Lords. I didn·t think those guys did anything but wear powdered wigs and get caught in sex scandals, but there you go.

As bodacious as these three things may be, they pale in the shadow of the news that Disney bought up Job·s Pixar Animation company, the creators of mega-cartoon franchises like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo. Even though the deal is Disney-buys-Pixar, after the dust settles, Steve Jobs will be the largest single shareholder of Disney stock, with something like seven percent of the stock.

Now think about that for a second. We·re talking freakin· Disney here! While Jobs is busy downplaying the significance of the deal and his position in the Evil Mouse Empire, Mac-heads are starting to freak out that Jobs will be directing most of his energies toward Disney instead of Apple. Film industry folks think that Jobs won·t be able to help himself, and will soon simply take Disney over.

And while running Disney may seem far afield from selling maverick computers that nerdy people cherish with a religious fervor, once you add iTunes to the mix, you can see Jobs walking a straight line into the future. The new-generation iPods have video screens and massive hard drives to handle video content. Disney·s television network ABC has been way out front on making its TV shows available for viewing over the Internet, and the entire movie industry has been rushing to incorporate and harness the Internet-based delivery of films, to avoid the kind of massive loss of control that the music industry allowed to happened with the peer-to-peer networks.

And here·s Steve Jobs, walking out of numerous burning houses simultaneously with nary a scratch, and suddenly finding himself with the capacity to create content, control its delivery, and then sell you the gizmos you·ll watch and listen to it all on. Dazzling, brilliant, and very, very scary.

·Paul Rapp

Paul C. Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMC-FM·s Vox Pop program. Contact info can be found at www.paulrapp.com.


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