Law in the Internet Society

Press Releases and Propaganda: Apple as a Case Study

What can Apple’s iTunes press releases teach us about the company’s propaganda strategy? Below, I examine two such press releases. I find that, even after allowing Digital Rights Management-free (DRM-free) downloads, Apple attempts to communicate two contradictory ideas: every action it takes is, first, completely supportive of the current copyright system and, second, is wholly motivated by benevolence for its customers.


This paper examines two Apple press releases. Apple released the first on May 5, 2003. See "iTunes Music Store Sells Over One Million Songs in First Week." This press release lauded the launching of the iTunes Store, which allowed consumers to download digital music at $.99 per song. These songs were encoded with DRM, a device which prevents transfer of the song files beyond the computer on which they are downloaded and attached portable players. The second press release came on May 30, 2007, and it announced Apple’s launch of iTunes Plus, which gave customers the option to download some songs in a DRM-free, higher bit-rate form for $1.29 per song. See "Apple Launches iTunes Plus."

Communicating Customer-Based Motives

A press release guides reporting. Predictably, then, Apple uses its press releases to communicate ideas that advance the company’s welfare. For instance, Apple attempts to communicate that every step it takes is motivated by benevolence towards its customers, not by market forces or profit. If communicated successfully, this notion gives Apple a competitive advantage by making the company look like a generous, market leader.

Thus, although DRM was a bargaining chip to gain the music industry’s support for the iTunes Store, the first press release nonetheless tried to convey that the Store took its form in order to achieve optimal results for customers. The release quoted Steve Jobs, who proclaimed, “Apple has created the first complete solution for the digital music age- you can purchase your favorite music online at the iTunes Music Store […] and take your entire music collection with you.” Apple thus attempted to define “complete solution” on an individual-consumer basis (i.e. a solution is complete if it allows a consumer to listen to her purchased music at home and elsewhere). For those who wanted to share music with non-consumers, the solution was definitively incomplete. Yet, any hint of incompleteness, such as the mention of DRM, would have made Apple look like it had bowed to corporate pressure instead of consumer desires.

By the time of the second press release, iTunes was being pressured by competitors (Amazon and eMusic) who were on the verge of, or already, providing their customers with DRM-free downloads. Apple had to cave to these market forces, but it had to make it seem that it was doing so for its customers’ benefit.

In turn, Apple conveyed the notion that it had actually added something to the files, when in reality it had merely removed the DRM-restriction that it had initially implanted. In the second press release, Jobs stated, “Our customers are very excited about the freedom […] of iTunes Plus.” This narrative of Apple adding a new feature (“freedom”), instead of the more accurate narrative of Apple eliminating a former restriction, made it seem as though Apple had discovered a new digital capability and was generously passing it along to customers. To corroborate this narrative, the press release quoted Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI, who declared, “This is a tremendous milestone for digital music.” Again, this comment was designed to make it seem like Apple had made a pro-customer advancement, when in reality it had simply caved to market pressure.

Communicating Support of Copyright

Apple also attempts to communicate that its actions reinforce the copyright system. This idea is consistent with Apple’s well-being, for if consumers begin to observe that the current copyright system is crumbling, more will notice the anarchical alternative and its viability, and more will turn away from the iTunes Store.

In turn, Apple consistently strives to communicate that its most recent action is a contribution to copyright’s health. Its standard modus operandi is to have a music executive, such as the aforementioned Nicoli, extol Apple’s actions. Thus, the first press release quoted Roger Ames, CEO of Warner Music Group, who stated, “Apple has shown […] that there really is a successful and easy way of legally distributing music over the Internet.”

Thus, in the second press release, Apple somehow needed to communicate that removing DRM, and in turn giving consumers freedom to distribute, actually promoted the copyright system. It attempted to do so by constructing a limited notion of freedom: the freedom that accompanied DRM-free files was not the freedom to distribute, but the freedom of the consumer to listen to her downloads on any device she desires. In the press release, Nicoli proclaimed: “Consumers are going to love listening to […] iTunes Plus tracks […] with no usage restrictions.” By limiting the listener category to “consumers” and claiming that the eliminated restrictions were restrictions on “usage” (not distribution), Nicoli’s quote made the freedom promoted by iTunes Plus’s appear to be wholly consistent with the copyright system. The press release author echoed this restricted notion of freedom: “[C]ustomers can now download tracks […] without limitations on the type of music player or number of computers that purchased songs can be played on.” Albeit far-fetched, Apple attempted to communicate its continued reinforcement of the copyright system.


Press releases are not the only source of corporate propaganda, but they are indicators of corporations’ general propaganda messages. For instance, after one understands Apple’s desire to create a narrative of “freedom” addition for iTunes Plus, it becomes clear that the company gave the new files their moniker (“iTunes Plus”), increased the bit-rate of the files, and charged a higher price for iTunes Plus songs in order to reinforce this narrative. Jobs can only hope that customers believe the story.

-- AndrewHerink - 08 Dec 2008

  • Good so far as it goes, but it's not going very far. The analysis doesn't do much to generalize beyond the literal significance of the examples. The conception of PR that lies behind the use of "propaganda" as a term of derogation is also a little primitive. Apple's use of PR--obsessive control of its image and information flow, understanding of the importance of image over substance, induction of belief rather than understanding among its supporters--is indeed a valuable example, because the Cult of Mac, Reality-Distortion Field has so heavily influenced both the technology and the business-writing of our time. Some of what you have said here does illuminate those issues, but 1,000 words should go much further on this subject, by now, as so much else has already been said.



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r2 - 02 Feb 2009 - 17:28:24 - EbenMoglen
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