EMI Drops DRM Restrictions On iTunes

    April 2, 2007

Crusaders against Digital Rights Management (DRM) believe the practice does nothing to curtail music piracy while placing unnecessary restrictions on downloaded audio content. In a move that should please the anti-DRM contingent, EMI has announced that it will remove the restriction from its tracks on iTunes.

The buzz surrounding today’s revelation started yesterday when EMI issued a press release inviting the media to “hear about an exciting new digital offering, with special guest, Apple CEO Steve Jobs.”

Some speculated that the announcement might be related to the launch of the Beatles’ catalog on iTunes. Others, such as the Wall Street Journal, speculated that the get-together would indeed center on the removal of DRM from the EMI online catalog. In the WSJ piece, Ethan Smith and Nick Wingfield talk about how it all got to this point:

EMI’s move comes after months of private discussions and public advocacy by Internet and technology-industry executives, including Mr. Jobs, aimed at encouraging the music industry to change its approach to licensing music for sale online. In February, Mr. Jobs took the unusual step of posting an 1,800-word essay on Apple’s Web site urging major recording companies to consider dropping their insistence that music be sold over the Internet with DRM software.

Engadget reports that sans DRM tracks will become available at the iTunes Music Store beginning in May.

And with glee, the anti-DRM crusade chalks up what it hopes will be the first in a long line of victories for digital music lovers. 

Supporters of DRM, notably Warner Music Group, should feel increased pressure from online advocacy groups to do away with the practice in the wake of EMI’s announcement.

The real test, however, will be the actual sales figures once the non-DRM tracks go live on the iTunes Music Store. Despite the notion that consumers feel the right to do whatever they wish with the content they’ve purchased, the real motivator for record companies is the bottom line.

If no DRM leads to more revenue for EMI, then the other big labels will eventually come around.