January 08, 2009

iTunes goes DRM-free

Well, it’s always been on the cards, but the biggest news of the week is that Apple have finally been able to make iTunes tracks available without the Digital Rights Management that was essentially ‘watermarked’ into all previous tracks.

So you can now buy a tune from iTunes and play it on Microsoft’s Zune player or similar by SanDisk. It really took us until 2009 to get to that stage? The major labels and countless independents have been selling DRM-free tracks via Amazon for about a year, so why did they hold out on Apple?

Steve Jobs announced that EMI were willing to drop DRM back in 2007, but the rest of the majors (Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Entertainment) have held out for some unknown reason. Actually, the reason is know; it’s because majors have no idea how to move forward in this music evolution. They were unwilling to hand over DRM-free copies to iTunes because of the scale of it’s sales, fearing a loss of control and rampant, escalating piracy. They struggle to keep hold of things like DRM so that people don’t ‘steal their money’.

Here’s a thought. Will Apple’s news make much difference? The people who already buy millions of tracks from iTunes are doing so (mostly) happily and playing them on their millions of iPods and iPhones. As far as they know (or care), DRM has never been an issue. People who have wanted to download DRM-free music for their non-Apple devices have been able to find it fairly easily. Will these settled buyers bother to jump ship? Especially with the new price rises too (more on that later). The infamous Bob Lefsetz thinks the news is very much a non-issue, saying that “the only people who care about DRM don’t pay for music, they just steal it. Otherwise, Amazon would have eclipsed Apple and the Seattle company would own the online music market”.

Is it all too-little too-late?

Lee Jarvis.

Cross-posted at our UK Music Jobs website and also our USA Music Jobs website. The premier online communities for music industry professionals.


Kahua Music said...

Interesting stuff, and probably time the DRM thing was forgotten. I'd never really thought about it from the perspective that the major labels were the ones holding out on DRM, I'd assumed that Apple were the ones holding onto DRM as a way of selling more iPods. At countless seminars I've attended the message has always come across "Apple aren't interested in selling music, they want to sell iPods".

Deutlich said...

it's kinda sad how slow the majors are on EVERYthing at this point. I mean... didn't Napster teach them anything?

Lee Jarvis said...

I see that point Ian, although I would have thought it would work against Apple - I'd rather buy the track from another store, even if it's a few pence more, than go out and spend 100GBP on an iPod.

We've all heard Jobs complain that Apple makes 'practically nothing' from song sales - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/11/07/your_99c_belong/ although, a few years and 6 BILLION (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/06/itunes-sells-6-billion-songs-and-other-fun-stats-from-the-philnote/) downloads later, I can see all those 'practically nothing's adding up.

Deutlich - Glad you brought up Napster! The Majors are still trying to force everyone else to comply with their out-of-date strategies. I don't see them learning anything from the DRM issue either.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you back here soon :)