EMI and Jobs blow away DRM (and historic Beatles)

Monday's IT Blogwatch comes to you from from sunny London: in which EMI and Steve Jobs are expected to remove DRM from their music. Not to mention The Beatles on Doctor Who in 1965...

Harry McCracken reports:

Hey, the Beatles are finally coming to iTunes! Or maybe a major label is announcing it's dropping DRM! Or something else huge is about to happen, probably involving digital music! Or something disappointingly minor! Well, actually, all we know is that music behemoth EMI has said it's holding a press conference tomorrow in London, and that Steve Jobs will be in attendance, along with an unspecified musical guest.

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The Wall Street Journal is reporting that ... EMI ... will be dropping DRM on much of its music. The Journal is as close to an unimpeachable source as there is, but its story is behind a subscription wall ... If this is legit, tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of the history of digital entertainment.

Eric Bangeman adds:

The news comes less than two months after Apple published Steve Jobs' famous open letter on the issue of DRM. In his missive, Jobs laid the blame for the DRM mess squarely at the feet of the music industry and said that he would gladly sell unprotected music if only the record labels would agree ... (Jobs also argued that interoperable DRM schemes are inherently less secure than closed systems—a questionable assertion, at best.)

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In early February rumblings were heard that EMI was thinking about ditching DRM, but EMI was unable to entice the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and others. As it turned out, EMI wanted a considerable advance payment to offset what it perceived as a "risk": selling DRM-free music online. EMI's position was simple: if they sell music without DRM, then users will find trading it that much easier. What this view ignores is the fact that DRM-free music already flows online, on P2P networks and USENET, among other places. This happens (in part) because CDs are, by and large, free of DRM and easy to rip. 

Ryan Block adds:

It sounds like savvy consumers the world over finally pounded the message home (with a little help from Jobs himself); tomorrow could mark the first great pillar of DRM crumbling under the pressure of so many end-users and nations. The only question is whether EMI will wind up regretting this decision (we sincerely doubt it), or whether this will start a domino effect with the rest of the major labels that would, in effect, spell the end of DRM forever (one can only hope). Hey, maybe EMI will even make this a twofer and offer up The Beatles DRM-free. Now that would be somethin'.

P.S. -For those without a WSJ account -- while this may not necessarily end up being true, this is at very least not an April Fool's prank.

Glenn Peoples does a double-take:

Wow. I'm not totally blown away, but I'm blown away. Offering just parts of its catalog without DRM is a major change in strategy. But it makes perfect sense. This is a year in which things are coming to a boil and pressure to re-think entrenched beliefs is higher than ever. The fun part will be the wait for EMI's competitors, and seeing how this effects catalog sales.

Brian Raftery too:

This is pretty surprising news, and not only because it involves a major label making a smart decision about online distribution for the first time in, well, forever. (Although if we were going to bet which major would drop DRM first, it would have been EMI; they're no strangers to the idea of loosening restrictions on even their biggest artists.)

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How will Apple open iTunes to these DRM-free downloads, and will labels that have been distributing their wares without DRM--like all of those on the MP3 subscription service eMusic--be able to follow in EMI's path? ... Will EMI make a play to put its DRM-free catalog on that service, which has traditionally been the land of indie labels? ... How will this move affect the beleaguered label's prospects for eventually being bought? Warner Music, which was chief among EMI's suitors, has a CEO who's pretty stridently pro-DRM; does this mean their dalliances are officially dead? (It's far-fetched to think that Apple eventually swoop in and save EMI's day--or is it?)

Arnold Kim grumbles:

Late last week, MacRumors had heard rumblings that Steve Jobs and EMI would jointly announce the dropping of Digital Rights Management for EMI's music associated with iTunes. We were unable to confirm, so we were unable to publish.

Steve Jobs (for it isn't he) mumbles:

It's late here, but I totally can't sleep. It's just so great to be back in London, even if, like almost all of the former Soviet Bloc cities, it still has that oppressive gray feeling everywhere you go, that crappy cement architecture and the gloomy people shuffling along and not smiling, as if they just can't manage to shrug off nearly a century of communist rule.

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Doctor Who meets the Beatles, in 1965 bonus link: best security April Fools jokes

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at blogwatch@richi.co.uk. Did you see the new assistant at the weekend?

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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