EMI Releases Unprotected Music on iTunes

EMI has announced that it’s going to be releasing non-rights protected music on iTunes this week and we published an Emerging Media Update about it today. This is one of those hot button issues around the lab that gets everyone all hot and bothered and eventually ends with someone either storming out because they feel that DRM is akin to placing a shackle around our digital necks, or making broad generalizations about how DRM is the equivalent of an Internet Patriot Act (this has been argued as both good and bad at different times around here, oddly enough). Everyone has their own opinion on the subject of how DRM should (or, for some folks, should not) be used. I figured it might be fun to take a little pulse of the Interweb, though, (or at least our readership) and see how you guys feel about it. A snippit of our analysis follows. Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the matter. 

On a very large scale, EMI’s move to offer unprotected songs may be the first tentative step in a mass migration of studios moving towards allowing users more control over their content. At the very least, it’s one of the first times since the battle against P2P networks started that a record label has relaxed restrictions instead of tightening them and trusted its paying customers to use its content properly.

The addition of DRM-free, higher-quality tracks on iTunes may even also help to lessen the impact of illegal file sharing, which sometimes occurs because file traders are stymied by both the lesser quality MP3 format and the inability to freely move DRM-protected music between any device. Instead, they opt to trade higher quality FLAC audio format files that can be transported between a wide variety of devices, at the cost of engaging in copyright infringement. While the results are not yet in, EMI’s effort may succeed in swaying those file traders that yearn for higher quality and increased transferability by providing a legal method to do it.

Apple, for its part, is doing an excellent job of trying to repair the rift that has grown between them and the industry that claims cherry-picking songs has ruined album sales. Even though Apple is charging a premium for individual downloads of the DRM-free, higher-quality EMI songs, EMI albums (which include the same features) will be sold for the same price as other albums, offering an incentive for users to purchase the full album from iTunes.

Additionally, Apple revealed last week that they’re offering a new service that will allow customers who purchased on song on an album to download the rest of the album at a discount, which may also aid in the its effort to convince record companies that they’re on the same side of the battle to sell albums.