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The beginning of the end for DRM?

May 8, 2007

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In february, Apple CEO Steve Jobs lashed out against the Digital Rights Mangement (DRM) technology that not only prevented the copying of music bought on iTunes Music Store (iTMS), but also made it impossible to play the music files on any other music player than Apple’s very own iPods. In his open letter entitled Thoughts on music, Jobs blamed the major record companies for this infringement on consumer rights, claiming he had never liked or wanted the concept of DRM. In April, the first of the big record labels started to come around. According to Associated Press, EMI struck a deal with Apple, allowing iTMS to sell music files without DRM.

Waiting and watching

The other major labels – Warner Music Group Corp., Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, and Sony BMG Music Entertainment are now waiting to see how well the unrestricted EMI tracks sell before deciding whether they should follow EMI’s example.

– The fact that they were able to do this deal with EMI puts more pressure on some of the other labels to follow suit, Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research told the Associated Press.

Not enough

If the major record labels decide to opt for an DRM-free alternative, this is a small victory for music fans everywhere, as well as a small, but important step towards curbing music piracy. However, it is not enough. One major obstacle still remains: prices.

While Jobs initially insisted that no tracks sold on iTMS should cost more than 99 cents, Apple’s deal with EMI means that iTMS is now leaving this price policy. The DRM-free music files now sell for $1.29. While high quality DRM-free files available might be an important weapon in the battle against music piracy, I doubt that all that many music lovers will be willing to pay 30 cents more for the rights that should have been theirs from the very beginning. Until ALL music sold on iTMS and its competitors is DRM-free, and the prices are equal to – or lower than – the price for DRM-bound songs today, I do not believe that a great many people will buy music that they could download for free. OK, it’s illegal, but who can blame them for rebelling against a music industry that puts profits first and legitimate consumer claims somewhere the sun rarely shines?

Photo: Wikimedia commons

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