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Biggest DRM-Free Deal To-Date? April 2, 2007

Posted by David Card in Media.

Word is, EMI’s going to pull the trigger on distributing digital songs without DRM copy protection. Presumably in MP3s that, no matter which store sold ’em, could play on any computer or device. If true, bravo. DRM should unlock new business models, not attempt to lock down 20th century ones.

It doesn’t actually matter much for Apple, though of course having their mighty machine doing the spin ensures attention. It’s actually a bigger deal for all the other digital music stores, and for all the other MP3 player companies. Not to mention justification for eMusic’s strategy, which has been DRM-free indie and world music from Day One. And it’s a win for consumers, who won’t have to manage their collections in quite such a complicated fashion. Well, at least in the future they won’t.

Will DRM-free distribution jump-start digital music sales? (Especially enough to deflect the impact of dying CDs.) Unlikely. At least not in and of itself. It should enable more competition among stores and devices, which, in the longer run, will.

Why am I skeptical? To-date, Apple’s done a great job dominating devices and US digital sales, and it’s not by DRM lock-in. But most of the songs on iPods aren’t bought at the iTunes store. (Check out those reports.) There’s no sign consumer resistance to DRM has had much effect on iPod sales.

I’m out of the country today, so reporters should track down my colleague Michael Gartenberg, who — I can’t resist — is still waiting on the Beatles.

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