DRM Soul-Searching Continues, Speculation Surrounds Majors

One of the biggest topics at Midem this year is the effectiveness of DRM, and whether majors will abandon the technology in the near-term.

Panel discussions and after-hours chatter have been incredibly heavy on the topic, though few could point to a concrete development ahead.  And the labels themselves appear to be moving in different directions.  Earlier this month, insiders pointed Digital Music News to an across-the-board shift towards MP3s by one major, though internal politics may be confusing that jump.  The mood at another major is decidedly protectionist, and will increasingly include locks and keys, according to a label source.

Despite the differences, labels are soul-searching for a way to boost digital sales, and DRM is increasingly being viewed as a drag on revenues.  Still, a shift away from DRM represents an irreversible experiment, and labels will ponder the terrain carefully before taking the plunge.  “Labels are going to think long and hard before they abandon DRM,” incoming BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said during a discussion at MidemNet over the weekend.

In that climate, calls for a move within the next few months are probably premature.  But if a massive shift does occur, labels would instantly level the playing field with Apple, a company that has steadfastly refused to open its proprietary architecture to outsiders.  That sounds attractive, especially as iPod sales continue to leap ahead and the interoperability nightmare intensifies.  A bold step would also validate the model implemented by eMusic years ago, a company that has had iPod access from the beginning.   Meanwhile, competing music stores and players, long marginalized by Apple, could feel a lift from a DRM-free environment.