Rumor has it that iTunes may soon offer music for all four of the major record labels without copy protection. At the moment only EMI tracks are available without Digital Rights Management.
CNet is reporting its sources as saying Apple has discussed dropping copy protection with Universal, Warner and Sony, with two of the firms having been in talks “œon and off for several months.” It follows recent reports that Sony is on the verge of announcing a deal.
Tracks without DRM protection are sold under the brand name “˜iTunes Plus’. Originally buyers had a choice between buying EMI songs with protection for 99-cents or paying an extra 30-cents for the “˜Plus’ version with no DRM. Possibly thanks to a hostile response to the idea of paying extra to get rid of copy protection, Apple changed its system in October 2007: any tracks offered without DRM are at the regular price and there’s no version of the track containing DRM (because it would be pointless to download it).
A deal would restore a level playing field between iTunes and the rival download service offered by Amazon, which was the first company to get DRM-free tracks from all four major labels. Indeed, between that series of agreements and the recent launch of MySpace Music (with all four labels on board), it was looking very much as if the music industry was deliberately trying to keep Apple’s market dominance in check for fear of losing bargaining power.
Whichever side was pushing for DRM’s removal, most will see it as a positive step if it takes place. Aside from a few CDs with copy protection (which have been poorly received), most physical media can already be copied and shared online, so it damages the entire download market to have extra restrictions. As much as online piracy is a legitimate concern, DRM smacks of companies exploiting a technology simply because it exists, rather than because it’s necessary or justified.