digital rights

EMI, DRM and iTunes

I honestly thought it was an April Fool’s joke. This speculative report mentioned that invites were sent to the press on 1st April, which just sent king sized alarm bells ringing in my head. (I’ve been reading all weekend).

But apparently it’s genuine and true. EMI have listened to their customers, and agreed to start shipping decent quality audio without DRM. (Some confusion over whether it’s MP3 or aac).

Yes, it’s a significant move. It breaks Apple’s monopoly on music supply to the iPod, and would allow iTunes to sell music to Zune – it’s starting to look like a proper free market and putting cracks in the existing vertical model.

But looking beyond the headline, what can we see?

  • EMI is in poor health, and this could be dressing to stimulate interest and confidence.
  • Microsoft Zune may rely heavily on a vertical model to operate profitably; have EMI helped Apple kick the legs out from underneath Zune?
  • It’s not much fun without Universal Music. They control the lion’s share of contemporary music releases, so there’s not much to see without them.
  • What anti-piracy measures might be slipped in? Will the audio be watermarked to identify who’s leaking music onto P2P networks?

I’m pleased we’re seeing some movement, I just hope it’s genuine and followed up by other music download services and other music labels. (I’ll look forward to adding MP3 to

UPDATE: (2nd June 2007) – James has picked up on the fact that Apple are indeed putting personal information into their DRM free files, but in a far from elegant way.

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