April 2, 2007 | By Peter Eckersley

EMI Begins Licensing DRM-Free Music Downloads

Apple and EMI announced today that the iTunes Music Store will begin offering DRM-free downloads from EMI's catalog.

EFF welcomes this development wholeheartedly. Of course, we've been saying for years that DRM is bad for consumers, innovators, and artists. DRM on music does nothing to prevent "Internet piracy" and is single-handedly responsible for all the interoperability problems surrounding digital music today. We're glad that both major labels and service providers are gradually coming to their senses.

Unfortunately, the industry is still giving consumers a raw deal. EMI will be charging fans a 30% premium to avoid DRM ($1.29 instead of 99 cents per track, or 30 cents to upgrade an old download) -- effectively a surcharge to buy back your rights [*].

This high price will exclude many fans who would be willing to pay a subscription fee to license the file sharing they currently do -- and have been doing since Napster first appeared eight years ago. EFF has been advocating voluntary collective licensing as a better way forward, and, though the major record labels have eschewed this path, perhaps they might change their tune soon. After all, it was not long ago that the record labels were aghast at the mere idea of DRM-free music.

[*] CORRECTION: (04/03/07) According to EMI management, the decision to charge 30¢ extra for DRM-free tracks, and to encode them as 256kbs AAC files, was Apple's and not EMI's. Full DRM-free albums will be available through iTunes at no extra cost (Apple realises they're competing with CDs there). And, most importantly, EMI's DRM-free music will be available through other stores without the 30% markup. We're pleased to hear it.


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