DRM (or Digital Rights Management) has been a contentious subject practically since the dawn of digital music. Many fans prefer their audio files to be free of locks, so they can enjoy their music across multiple platforms and players. The major labels (and some artists), on the other hand, have been reluctant to liberate their content, for fear of unchecked filesharing.
But it looks like DRM might finally be on the way out. Last week, Sony BMG finalized plans to remove copy protection from the music they sell digitally. Some are predicting the entire catalog will be available at digital retailers within months.
Sony follows EMI and Warner Music Group in forgoing anti-copy coding on MP3s. This represents a major development for the company, which endured the wrath of consumers back in 2005 when it placed a “rootkit” in its CDs that rendered personal computers vulnerable to all kinds of viral nastiness.
And it’s not just the biggest labels that are going DRM-free — digital retailers are giving it a go, too. Napster just announced that it will convert its entire downloadable catalog to MP3, which is playable on pretty much every device on the market. It’s a good guess that iTunes will soon follow suit.
FMC has always supported artists’ right to be paid for their work, whether it ends up as a digital file, a webstream or a vinyl LP. But we also believe that a “licenses, not locks”-approach to digital distribution is the smartest solution to these issues. As music becomes less of a packaged product and more of a “service,” interoperability becomes even more key for consumers. In fact, frustration with DRM may have led folks many to the very file-sharing sites that the big labels spend so much time and money combating. We can only hope that dropping DRM will encourage more cross-platform opportunities for the legal purchase and streaming of music. Wouldn’t that be better for everyone?