Another DRM Card Falls

Apple’s iTunes service owns the lion’s share of the legal music download business. EMI Group claims to be the world’s largest independent music company. Clearly, these are two heavyweight influencers in the music marketplace. So it was a bit of a bombshell when the two companies announced that iTunes will be allowed to start selling downloaded songs from EMI’s catalog without digital rights management (DRM). As I have stated here before, DRM stands for “copy protection“. EMI has stated that it wants to become the leader in digital music, so it makes sense that they would be the first company to step up to the challenge made by Apple’s Steve Jobs earlier this year to get rid of copy protection on downloaded music.

The announcement is an incremental victory, as the music without the anti-copy features will come at a premium; the tracks will cost $1.29 each instead of the usual iTunes price of $.99 per track. As a bonus, however, the more expensive tracks will also feature twice the bit rate for better quality sound. So you can pay a little more for better sound and no copy protection, or save a little and get the “standard” quality tracks with copy protection.

In spite of the extra cost, I view this as a huge victory for the consumer. As anyone involved in radical politics in the 60s and 70s will tell you, a compromise between change and the status quo is still change. Copy protection gets between the consumer and the content, and prevents you from listening to (or watching) the content where you want, and when you want. Consumer demand is the unstoppable force in the marketplace, and we’re discovering once again — as we did with computer software in the 80s — that copy protection is not an immovable object. The camel’s nose has nudged much further under the tent with this announcement, and I expect to see momentum build for the removal of copy protection from downloaded content.