EMI tears down the wall

snipshot_d4o6q2260nb.jpgAt last, EMI has announced what many digital music fans have been hoping for, something that has been the subject of rumours ever since Apple supremo Steve Jobs wrote his Reagan-style “tear down this wall” anti-DRM rant awhile back: for the first time, a major record label will sell music free from DRM. The songs will be $1.99 each, and will be higher quality, or consumers can opt for lower quality with digital rights management. The deal reportedly includes the entire EMI catalogue of more than 5 million songs, and previously purchased songs can be upgraded. There are lots more links at Techmeme, including the official release from EMI — which is here — as well as live-blogging of the keynotes from Jobs and the EMI gang by Crunchgear, more details from CNet and some perspective from Cynthia Brumfield over at IPDemocracy.

This is pretty huge. Maybe even bigger than the Beatles 🙂 The big question, of course, is whether this will start a DRM-free land rush of any kind, or whether EMI will be left to twist in the wind. My hunch is that the other labels will wait and see whether the move pays off, and when they realize that they can sell even more music if it is free of DRM, they will open up as well.

Steve O’Hear of ZDNet doesn’t think EMI’s attempt will get much traction, however, because it means paying more for something you can already get for free. And my friend Paul Kedrosky thinks that EMI — which he describes as an “also-ran” in the music biz — is effectively buying market share.

On a Canadian note, EMI’s new DRM-free songs will be available at iTunes.ca as well (Canada already has a source of DRM-free independent music: a site called Puretracks). Does DRM prevent you from buying more music from official or legitimate sources? Let me know in the comments.


Gizmodo has some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the EMI and Apple deal, including the fact that EMI came up with the idea rather than Apple, and that the 256kbps format and the pricing were both Apple’s idea.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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