Monday, April 2, 2007

I Want My MP3!

Digital music downloads have been a controversial topic for some time now. Sure, they let you grab only the tracks you want, when you want them, for about a buck a song. But, those songs are basically crippled thanks to the loveliness that is DRM. Depending on where you buy the songs from, you might not be able to burn them on CD, play them on another computer, or put them on your mobile device of choice. But finally, the tides are turning.

Back in February, I commented on an open letter from Steve Jobs asking the recording industry to drop DRM in favor of a more open business model. I was skeptical of his motives, and frankly, I still am, but the proof is in the pudding. Yum, pudding.

As if people didn't have enough reason to use iTunes, they just got one more. EMI and Apple, in a joint announcement over the weekend, stated that DRM free music would be coming to iTunes this May. How much music? All of it. That's right, EMI's entire digital catalog will now be available DRM free. That means you can do anything you want with the files after you buy them, including posting them on P2P sites. As if that weren't enough, the music will also be encoded at a higher bit rate than it currently is - 256 kbps.

Of course, there are downsides. The biggest is that this new format will cost more - $1.29 per song. Also, the tunes will only be available in AAC format, so no MP3 for you. Still, that's a fairly small downside. And for those of you that like your music cheap and restricted, the original 99 cent, FairPlay locked files will still be available.

If you've already purchased EMI music through iTunes, you'll have the opportunity to "upgrade" to the new files for 30 cents a song when the catalog goes live. Of course, that assumes you live under a rock and haven't figured out how to remove the DRM yourself. Google is your friend.

There's no word yet on when the other labels will get on board, but it's only a matter of time at this point. And for those of you morally opposed to using iTunes, the DRM free EMI catalog will be making its way to other digital music retailers after the iTunes release. Each retailer will even get a say in what file type and bit rate are used, so there should be plenty of choices in the market once everything shakes out.

Finally, the sun is rising on the digital music horizon. How many years did it take? Still, better late than never. And you've really got to hand it to Jobs. He makes things happen. Take that Bill Gates - you got served!

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