Emancipation Proclamation

Posted on: April 2, 2007

EMI and Apple have announced today that they are going to start selling the entire EMI catalogue (minus The Beatles, of course) on iTunes with no DRM and at higher quality (256kbps AAC). This is fantastic news, as it’s the first time that a major media company has publicly rebuked DRM. The BBC News interview with Steve Jobs and the man from EMI is well worth watching because the interviewer asks all the right questions. Also, you get the slightly bizarre sight of Jobs describing the cumbersome loophole that we’ve always been able to use to remove the Apple DRM (burning the tracks to a CD and then ripping them back onto the computer).

Of course, there are a few disappointing things left for the malcontents among us:

  • The unprotected tracks are 20p/30¢ more than the protected versions, but thankfully the unprotected versions of albums are the same price as they always were. Suprisingly, there is an option to “upgrade” your old tracks by paying the difference between the unprotected price and the protected price. I’ve got at least 16 or so EMI tracks that I’ve bought from iTunes and I’ll be upgrading them all on day one just to show support for the new DRM-free world.
  • I’d still personally prefer that the tracks were losslessly compressed (meaning exactly the same quality that you get on a CD), but 256kbps AAC is certainly an improvement and, from what I understand, even people with golden ears and expensive Hi-Fis start to be satisfied at that sort of bitrate, so I may have to grudgingly accept it for the convenience of not having to go out and buy CDs and meticulously rip them any more.
  • Who forgot to invite the indies? Independent labels have been selling DRM-free music for years, so it’s a shame that they were left out today. I guess they’ll be added soon, but probably not in time for the new Arctic Monkeys album release, which is a shame because that would have been a fine test-case that might have helped persuade the other majors to get on board.
  • The best part of the above interview is when Steve is asked about whether the same thing will happen with video. It’s funny because he knows he’s talking absolute shit, and I think it pains him slightly to have to say it. Don’t worry though Steve, I’ve got you covered. Here’s what he actually wanted to say: “Well, as you know, I’m on the board of directors at Disney, and we own the rights to a huge amount of video (and not much audio, funnily enough). Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to convince a majority of my buddies over there that we should sell it sans-DRM (and believe me, I’ve tried), so thank God for this guy sitting next me. I’d also love to add a feature to iTunes which would rip your DVDs and put them on your iPod, but because of the DMCA I can’t do that either. But don’t worry, today is clearly the beginning of the end of DRM so it’s only a matter of time.”

Even with those little niggles, today is still a great day for consumers and — I suspect history will show — for the music industry, as well. So props to EMI, props to Apple, and props to the ability of common sense to eventually overcome even the most hardened control-freakery.

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