Let's Take a Moment to Mourn DRM

According to an article in Business Week, Sony BMG Music Entertainment will start selling songs without copyright protection sometime this quarter, a move that will essentially kill the much-loathed digital rights management, or DRM. Basically, this means that songs you download through iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, or any other service will be completely unprotected.

Naturally, the catalyst for this move is money. A company would never do anything out of the goodness of its collective corporate heart. Sony and other labels realized that DRM was not only restricting the illegal distribution of music; it was also restricting the LEGAL distribution of music. With the canning of DRM, we should begin to see a plethora of new platforms for online music sales.

The irony in this story? Well, apparently the music industry is frustrated by Apple's pricing structure and wants a larger piece of the pie from music sales. The funny thing is that DRM was really what led to Apple's domination in the legal download market. When online music sales started to take off, the iPod was the dominant MP3 player on the marketplace (and still is, really, though there are more options now), and the only way you could buy and play protected music for the iPod was from Apple.

The only way for the music industry to cut into Apple's iTunes dominance is to offer unrestricted mp3 sales to retailers like Amazon.com, as MP3s can be played on any digital audio device.

What does this mean for the arts community? In my opinion, it won't make it less likely that an orchestra's performance will be shared illegally. However, it does level the playing field. If music executives - the people with money - have to deal with unrestricted audio being freely distributed, perhaps the strategies they devise to curb illegal activity will help to inform the nonprofit world.

In other words, we're all in the same boat, so the rowing should get a little easier for us artists.

Read the full Business Week article.

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