DRM is officially dead

Earlier this week came the announcement that Apple has finally convinced all of the labels on iTunes to drop DRM protection on their tracks. Back in Feburary 2007 Steve Jobs posted an open letter to the industry explaining that the implementation of DRM was done purely to keep the record labels happy and how he felt that DRM was actually working against the industry as consumers went through great lengths to obtain DRM free music (a lot of the time, through illegal channels such as P2P networks). Now some non-conformists/hippies may hate iTunes because it’s a hugely popular service but this announcement should keep even them happy for a number of reasons, namely:

  • DRM being pushed out the market. Because iTunes is the biggest store out there with some 73 million customers it will now be commercial suicide for a digital music store to launch with DRM (unless they’re an ‘all you can eat’ subscription service like Napster or Nokia’s recently launched Comes with Music service; although these are essentially rental services, different beasts altogether). Expect all digital music stores to be DRM-free from now on.
  • An even playing field. Previously, music bought on iTunes could only be played on an iPod. Apple has essentially set their customers free. They can now use any player on the market that supports the AAC format including Sony’s Walkman and many mobile phones (an infinitely better format for geeky reasons that I’ll spare you from in this post). This also gives a chance for new music stores to open without fear of scaring away potential customers with incompatibility problems.
  • Freedom for the music listener. Ultimately the real winner in this is us, the music listeners. Not only can we shop around on the already DRM-free stores such as Warp Records’ Bleep, eMusic or the ever popular Beatport for underground music, but we now have a massive archive of music now open to us as well. iTunes has over 10 Million tracks (with quite a large collection from smaller independent labels too). The amount of choice available to listeners now is staggering.

Some people have already come out to say that Apple have made a bad move by opening up iTunes, claiming that customers will now move to different services or buy different hardware.

Personally though I think that, in the long term, this is the healthiest thing to happen to the music industry in a long time.
Now, if only Apple would lean on film companies and get them to drop DRM too. Ah well, can’t have everything now can we?
(Apologies for the slightly soap-boxy post. Needed to get it off my chest).

Comic from the brilliantly geeky XKCD.