Apple may begin licensing its FairPlay digital rights management technology to third-party manufacturers in the near future--at least, that's the rumor. According to an unsubstantiated and unsourced item appearing at tech.co.uk, Apple plans to allow iPod-accessory makers to stream copy-protected iTunes content. To date, that feature has been restricted to Apple products, such as the AirPort Express wireless router and the forthcoming Apple TV. Other digital media products can stream only non-protected iTunes content--essentially, music and movies you've ripped to your PC.
If it pans out, the change could be a big deal and a positive development for consumers. Thus far, paid iTunes content has remained locked within Apple's proprietary ecosystem, shackling buyers with "iHandcuffs" that essentially forces them to use Apple hardware and software if they wish to enjoy iTunes-purchased media (music, movies, TV shows). By licensing FairPlay to other companies, iTunes media get the potential to be more transportable.
But for now, this remains nothing more than a rumor--and one that's a bit hard to swallow, at that. The tech.co.uk report highlights "USB streaming" as one of the big advantages of the alleged Apple licensing liberalization, despite the fact that a handful of USB devices (such as the Logitech Wireless DJ) are the only non-Apple products to date that can play FairPlay-protected iTunes audio tracks. It's also unclear why Apple wouldn't have used last week's Macworld show to make such a big announcement. Or why the company would cannibalize sales of its Apple TV product, due next month, by letting in a host of potential competitors.
In a perfect world, Apple would dump FairPlay DRM altogether. That's not going to happen, of course, so licensing FairPlay would be the next best thing. It will be interesting to see whether or not it happens, and what restrictions Apple places on the licensing if it does.