The music industry has gone through a lot of changes over the years, from vinyl records to CDs to digital downloads and now to streaming. And one of the biggest changes that we’ve seen in recent years is the move away from digital rights management (DRM) in music files. While most music files sold online today still include DRM, some record labels are starting to push for unprotected MP3s instead.
One of the biggest proponents of this approach is EMI. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the label has been “holding talks with several online retailers about the possibility of selling its entire digital music catalog in the unprotected MP3 format.” This move would be a major departure from the industry standard, which has been to include DRM in all digital music files sold online.
EMI’s push for unprotected MP3s has been in the works for a while. In early January, an informant told Digital Music News that a major label was preparing to position a large percentage of its catalog as open MP3s, and signs pointed to EMI. The Journal piece strengthens that argument, noting that the label has been “holding talks with several online retailers about the possibility of selling its entire digital music catalog in the unprotected MP3 format,” citing several sources.
EMI has been in advanced discussions with numerous digital music providers, including MTV, Napster, and RealNetworks, and a major portion of those negotiations revolved around upfront cash payments to EMI. The one-time payouts were positioned as an insurance policy against potential losses, according to the piece. The providers balked at those demands, according to various sources, though EMI subsequently requested counter-proposals. That is part of an ongoing negotiation, and one that could result in a major move.
The move away from DRM has been gaining momentum in recent years, thanks in part to Apple’s push for unprotected music files. In 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs penned an open letter calling on record labels to drop DRM from their music files. “Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats,” he wrote. “In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players.”
The letter was a major turning point in the industry’s approach to DRM, and it helped pave the way for unprotected music files. While not every record label has embraced the idea of unprotected MP3s, many have started to come around. EMI’s push for unprotected MP3s is just the latest example of this trend.
Of course, there are still concerns around the move away from DRM. Some argue that unprotected music files are more susceptible to piracy, and that this could hurt the industry as a whole. Others worry that without DRM, record labels will struggle to protect their intellectual property and make money.
Despite these concerns, however, many in the industry believe that the move away from DRM is inevitable. As more and more consumers turn to streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, the need for DRM is becoming less important. And with labels like EMI pushing for unprotected MP3s, it seems likely that we’ll see more and more record labels embrace this approach in the years to come.
In the end, the move away from DRM is just one more chapter in the ever-evolving story of the music industry. As technology continues to change and new players enter the market, we can expect to see more changes like this in the years to come. But for now, it looks like unprotected MP3s are here to stay.