Freedom of rights management

Musicians have been badgering Apple to sell their music without copy protection for years, so why, wonders Wendy M Grossman, is it changing its tune now?

From The Guardian:

ApplelogoIt’s a mystery that Apple won’t talk about. Independent artists have been complaining for years that Apple was deaf to their requests to include their music at the iTunes Music Store without applying digital rights management (DRM) software. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in his February 6 essay Thoughts on Music that the company had no choice but to use DRM to protect songs sold via iTunes because the record companies insisted on it. Complain, he said, to Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI, who control 70% of the world’s music. No answer, still, to the artists who wanted their music released DRM-free.

A few weeks ago, EMI blinked and agreed to release its catalogue in near-CD quality (256kbps AAC format), DRM-free, via iTunes for a premium price (99p per track). The DRM-free offerings will be available next month. Just like that.

Was that difficult to implement? Apple declined to discuss the decision, the technical complexity involved, or anything beyond Jobs’s essay.

Scott Cohen, founder of the digital distribution service The Orchard, says the change is “not technically complicated”. What is complicated, he says, is the many different versions required to service digital stores, from iTunes to mobile phone downloads. There are only three basic file formats in use – AAC, MP3 and WMA – but, he says, details like bit rates and the metadata identifiers are different for each store. There are 63 variants for mobile devices alone, and overall there are hundreds. Cohen notes, though, that the really hard work is marketing the music.

The reversal makes it even less understandable why independent artists who want to release their music via iTunes but without DRM have been unable to do so.

More here.