Music Wants to be DRM Free!

Digital music fans received some great news this morning: EMI (one of the largest record labels) is going to start offering DRM-free songs on iTunes. This is big, big, big.

I’ve written about my extreme distaste of DRM before, but I didn’t think we’d see the beginning of its death so soon. I fully expected that entertainment companies would resort to increasingly draconian means of “protecting” its content from the very people who buy it. That had been the recent trend — see Amazon’s Unboxed movie downloads and Microsoft’s Zune player.

I believe Steve Jobs’ recent essay on digital rights management and music will go down in history as the catalyst for this dramatic turn of events. Many others have been fighting DRM for years, but Steve has major clout with iTunes and the iPod — when he talks, people listen.

To have EMI’s entire digital music library for sale on iTunes is a turning point for customers. We’ll now have the choice between the current $.99 DRM’ed version, or the higher quality $1.29 unDRM’ed copy. EMI says early tests show people preferring the non-copy-protected versions 10 to 1, so I hope that’s validated in the sales numbers.

My only gripe: I don’t know, and shouldn’t have to care, who is and isn’t an EMI artist. I don’t think Apple has shown how they’ll handle the different versions in the iTunes interface, but I hope they make the non-DRM music easy to find.

That said, this is a starting point, and a good one. If all goes well, this will be a big success and the other labels will play follow the leader shortly.

Goodbye DRM: You won’t be missed.