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April 2, 2007

DRM-Free Music from EMI

EMI Music announced it will make "all of its digital repertoire available at a much higher sound quality than existing downloads and free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions."

"EMI expects that consumers will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free downloads from a variety of digital music stores within the coming weeks, with each retailer choosing whether to sell downloads in AAC, WMA, MP3 or other unprotected formats of their choice. Music fans will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free digital music for personal use, and listen to it on a wide range of digital music players and music-enabled phones."

Apple iTunes is the first music store that includes DRM-free songs from EMI, priced at $1.29, compared to $0.99 for the crippled songs. The new songs will have a much better quality (256 Kbps, double from the existing downloads).

Most files downloaded from Apple's music store come with Apple's DRM - called FairPlay. Songs are encoded using FairPlay-encrypted 128 kbit/s AAC streams in an MP4 wrapper and have limitations like:
* number of machines allowed to use purchased music within 24 hours: 5
* only iPod and a small number of Motorola phones can play the files.

In February, Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, wrote an insightful essay about music and DRM in which he tried to convince music companies that DRM is a bad idea.
Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the "big four" music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world's music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices. (...)

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music.

Related:
Transcript of Apple's press conference

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