The Beach Boys. The Beastie Boys. Blur. David Bowie. Kate Bush. And that’s just some of the ‘B’s.
All of them signed to EMI, or EMI-owned labels, and all likely to have their music appear on the iTunes Store in DRM-free format within a couple of months.
Here’s Steve and Eric looking pleased with themselves. And why shouldn’t they? Steve’s happy because he’s finally got someone from one of the big record labels to understand his basic point about DRM: it doesn’t work. He said it clearly in this Thoughts on Music:
To achieve this, a DRM system employs secrets … The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music. They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game.
It’s broken, and people hate it. Now that Eric Nocoli sees that too, Steve’s suddenly got 25 per cent of the music industry on his side. The smile on Steve’s face is the smile of a man who’s already won. And he’s not even out of his seat.
Eric’s smile is the smile of a man who’s got one-up on his rivals. He knows how conservative, how luddite, his industry has acted ever since it got the Napster kicked out of it back in the 1990s. He knows, like all retailers, that the customer is always right, and that today’s music buyers want to be able to do whatever the hell they like with their music. He knows this is going to come around for everyone sooner or later - but that his company is going to get there first.
Of course there will be people who will try to pirate their DRM-free music all over the web. We don’t know yet if the DRM-free files will also be metadata-free (my hunch is they won’t be), so it’s open to speculation what effect piracy will have. Not much. There will be isolated cases, perhaps causing brief surges of media interest, but the vast majority of people will do what they have always done - buy their music legally, because they want a good quality copy of it, which they can listen to on any machine they happen to own.
I’m smiling too. It’s been a long time since I realized the folly of filling my house with plastic disks, when all I really wanted to own was the music. But it’s also been a long time since the iTunes Store opened for business, and aside from one or two purchases made in the interest of reviewing software, I’ve not bought anything from it.
When the EMI catalogue goes on sale without DRM, I plan to go shopping. I’ll start with some of those ‘B’s.