EMI Launches DRM-Free Music

EMI is one of the four major members of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). The major record label and DRM (Digital Rights Management) have had an interesting past.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

With occasional rumblings of offering DRM free music, it seems that these rumblings have become a reality with their latest announcement.

Last year, EMI had experimented with DRM-free music. They released a track by Lily Allen in MP3 format. Also last year was the release of Norah Jones and Reliant K tracks in MP3 format as well. Some speculated that EMI would be the first of the “Big Four” to divorce itself from DRM formats.

Then came the news of Warner Music’s proposed takeover of EMI early this year. Some wondered if this was to prevent any release of DRM-free music by an RIAA member. But like the other occasions where another RIAA member proposed to tie the corporate knot, the deal never came to fruitation as EMI rejected the proposal, stating that it wasn’t in their interest.

Now today in a press conference at EMI headquarters in London, CEO Eric Nicoli announced that EMI Music is launching DRM-free “superior quality downloads” across its entire digital catalogue. Apple’s iTunes, a music store long known to be encoding music in propriatry DRM formats, would be the first digital store to sell the music as well.

“Our goal is to give consumers the best possible digital music experience. By providing DRM-free downloads, we aim to address the lack of interoperability which is frustrating for many music fans.” Eric Nicoli said during the press conference, “We believe that offering consumers the opportunity to buy higher quality tracks and listen to them on the device or platform of their choice will boost sales of digital music.”

The sale of the DRM-free music will complement the existing selection of DRM-encoded tracks already avaliable. “Superior quality downloads” isn’t just a new catch-phrase either; the music will be avaliable in a variety of bit-rates all the way up to CD quality – a way of selling that can be likened to the quality selection seen on Russian music store AllofMP3.com.

“Apple have been a true pioneer in digital music, and we are delighted that they share our vision of an interoperable market that provides consumers with greater choice, quality, convenience and value for money,” Eric said.

EMI isn’t alone in wanting to sell DRM-free music. Earlier this year, Steve Jobs stunned many when he released his Thoughts on Music, which takes a critical look at DRM. This rumbling turned out to not be just words either.

“Selling digital music DRM-free is the right step forward for the music industry,” explained Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who joined the press conference. “EMI has been a great partner for iTunes and is once again leading the industry as the first major music company to offer its entire digital catalogue DRM-free.”

Then comes the issue of price. People who have purchased the standard quality tracks with DRM will be allowed to “downgrade” their digital music to $0.30/€0.30/£0.20 per track. With twice the sound quality and without DRM, new customers will also be able to purchase the tracks at $1.29/€1.29/£0.99 per track. All of EMI’s music videos will remain at the same price, but also without DRM.

EMI expects customers to be able to purchase DRM-free music in other digital music stores in the coming weeks, leaving the retailers to choose what format to sell the music in.

As for subscription services such as Napster, EMI said that they will continue to employ DRM solutions. Limited-time ad supported services will also continue to use DRM for protection.

Does this mean an end to anti-piracy all-together? Not quite. “Protecting the intellectual property of EMI and our artists is as important as ever, and we will continue to work to fight piracy in all its forms and to educate consumers.” Nicoli added, “We believe that fans will be excited by the flexibility that DRM-free formats provide, and will see this as an incentive to purchase more of our artists’ music.”

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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