Sony Blinks on DRM?

An interesting event happened about two weeks ago. Yahoo Music started selling Jessica Simpson’s “A Public Affair” for $1.99. No, the extra $1 about the standard $.99 price for a downloaded song is not the news. Nor is the curious feature that if you happen to have one of the 500 names that Jessica and her backups recorded, you can get your download “personalized” by having your name mentioned in the song. The important news is that you get an MP3 file when you download.

Yes, that’s a plain, ordinary MP3 file, that can be played on just about any device that can play digital audio. What’s missing? Digital Rights Management — DRM — which is also known as “copy protection“. The final irony is that the song was released by Sony BMG, the same company that created a publicity nightmare with its copy-protected music CDs that trashed computer hard drives right and left.

So why do I mention this on an HDTV site? Because online distribution of both music and video (especially movies) is plagued at present by onerous copy protection schemes that add no value to the end user, and simply create problems that range from annoying to infuriating. Well, this one song could be the camel’s nose appearing under the edge of the DRM tent. Indie producers have released music and video without copy protection for years, but this is a significant move by a major publisher. If others follow suit, and copy protection becomes a competitive disadvantage (just as it did with PC software decades ago), maybe it will go away.