The beginning of the end for DRM?

**Note: Also appears in the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Reginald Tiangha – April 2, 2007 21:56 -With EMI Group PLC announcing today their intent to release music without any cumbersome DRM (Digital Rights Management, a technology that limits the ability to play certain multimedia files on other devices) through Apple’s iTunes music store, all I have to say is this: It’s about time.

The plan is to sell EMI music through Apple’s iTunes music store without DRM and at a higher sound quality than their regular music which does contain DRM. They plan to sell these premium tracks for an extra 30 per cent more, which translates into another 30 cents per song. The best part is that this is not an exclusive deal; EMI may choose to offer these types of downloads through other online music providers in the future.

While some people may balk at a 30 percent increase, I think $1.30 is perfectly reasonable for a file that will play anywhere with no effort involved. Although I don’t own an iPod, I do own a number of desktop computers as well as a couple of standalone MP3 players, a couple of CD Players with MP3 capabilities, a Pocket PC and a PSP.

Trying to get a piece of music to play on a device that was not the computer I had originally purchased it on usually required me to jump through a lot of hoops in order to get a file that would be truly portable, if it was possible in the first place. Also, trying to find a store that rivaled iTunes in variety and selection has been difficult. Finally, I run Linux on some of those desktop machines, which makes it difficult to play any kind of protected multimedia content on them, much less purchase any kind of legal, downloadable content. In today’s day and age where time is precious, 30 cents seems a small price to pay for convenience and interoperability.

I’m also excited at the potential this deal may have. EMI may prove to other music labels that selling DRM-less music can indeed be profitable, prompting them to do the same. If this is successful for EMI, I have no doubt that they’ll offer this service to other online music stores like Napster and MP3.com thus increasing availability and consumer choice.

This may even spread to downloadable video content, resulting in video downloads that can be easily converted into other formats for playback on all sorts of devices. For me, this has the potential to open up the entirety of Apple’s iTunes diverse product catalog to someone who doesn’t own an iPod yet still wants to be able to purchase music to play on another portable device or on a machine that is not running Windows. For the consumer, I think this is a big win.

It will be interesting to see if piracy will increase as a result of this, but I’m optimistic that this move will be a very profitable one for EMI. I have to applaud EMI for finally listening to consumers and for doing what they chose to do today, and I hope that this is the beginning of the end of that pesky DRM.