EMI and Apple jointly announced today that EMI will be making virtually its entire music catalog available without DRM. Their plan is to offer a higher priced version without DRM and with higher quality sound. This is obviously an important development – there is lots of DRM-free music available from independent labels, but the addition of the world's third largest music label is a game-changer. A few random comments:
- It would surprise no one to see the other major labels follow suit in the coming months. If EMI succeeds in selling more music, the other majors will find themselves at a significant competitive disadvantage and will move quickly to match. Indeed, Apple's Steve Jobs indicated that he hopes to offer half the iTunes catalog without DRM by the end of the year.
- There will be two competing approaches in evaluating the success of the EMI move. The skeptics will focus on whether the DRM-free tracks appear on file sharing networks. They obviously will and critics will use that development to argue that EMI was wrong to drop DRM. The other approach will focus on sales. If EMI sells more music, supporters will argue (rightly in my view) that the EMI move validates the concerns associated with DRM and that the market has been hamstrung to-date by interoperability and DRM concerns.
- Steve Jobs today said that he believes the video market is different from the music market given that music is widely available without DRM but video is not. I'm not convinced – this may be true for some movies, but television shows and other video content is freely available at no cost and without DRM. I would expect that the television download market will follow suit as there is no reason for the networks to lock up content that they give away without such protection.
- Finally, Canada's political leaders should pay attention to this development as the claims that the digital market is dependent on DRM (or that the Canadian market has been harmed by the absence of legal protection for DRM) has been dealt a serious blow. If anything, today's announcement demonstrates that DRM may have harmed the acceptance of the digital market. With the Canadian digital download market growing faster than either the U.S. or the European Union, there is no reason to believe that our legal framework has negatively affected the marketplace.