Well, sort of; it’s not free in the Limewire or Bearshare sense. Today is the big day Apple ups the anté: iTunes 7.2 is released and one of the “Big Four” labels, EMI Music, and other independent artists’ music breaks free from the shackles of DRM, or Digital Rights Management.
(With 1300 artists under its wing, EMI writes history with easily recognizable names (EMI and iTunes) offering DRM-free music for sale online. EMI is home to Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Alicia Keys, Kanye West and Usher, among others.)
In case you’ve been living under a rock, DRM is the stuff that locks the music you rip from CDs and music that you buy from online stores such as iTunes or Musicmatch online and Real/Rhapsody to the computers where you purchased them and to the devices those companies let you transfer them to. My first taste of DRM came around during the glory days of MP3.com and AOL Radio, when this one song I downloaded (John Mayer, No Such Thing, Sessions@AOL), supposedly “free”, asked for my email address, which I willingly gave out, and then I received a message saying the song will “expire” and stop playing after 30 days. Studio album for sale for only 20 AOL points, ergo, 19 US dollars. Bah.
I have to admit, when Jobs wrote his open letter rebuking DRM and its evil roots, I was the least bit convinced. So were the other anti-Mac pundits. I especially like the conspiracy theory going around on how Jobs (and Apple) want come out as the good guy and take all credit when we finally live in a DRM-free epoch. Like any other keen industry observer, Jobs knew we’ll sooner or later get there. The announcement back in April knocked my socks off. Today, two days to go before Apple is overdue of their “May” announcement, WE FINALLY HAVE IT.
TODAY, true to the spirit of tech agnosticism, I’d like to be fair and give credit where it is due: the greater part of which is to EMI for doing the right thing (the way to go DRM-less is not exclusive to Apple; EMI says other online dealers will also go DRM-free), and also to Apple for being taking advantage of the leverage only Steve Jobs has in moving the music industry. Bravo.
Will the iTunes Music Store’s free picks of the week go DRM-less free from hereon too? I’m keeping my fingers crossed.