In Which Something I Predicted Five Years Ago Comes True

In my second post to this blog, back on January 17, 2002, I wrote:

What amazes me is that the music business is so obtuse, they are refusing to learn from the experience of the last major intellectual property industry to fall for the copy-protection hustle — the software business. Back in the 1980s, the nascent microcomputer software business seemed like it was under a mortal threat — the consumer could copy any software he or she liked and give it to all their friends for free. And why would anyone pay for Lotus 1-2-3 or WordPerfect when they could just snag a free copy?

So the software publishers threw themselves into a frenzy of copy-protection. All sorts of complicated schemes were tried. In the end, though, they all failed because they didn’t stop professional software pirates, who could easily foil any copy-protection scheme by throwing cheap Asian programmers at it, while simultaneously they were a HUGE inconvenience for honest, legitimate users who had to fumble with key disks and hardware dongles and manual word lookups.

In the end the software industry pretty much abandoned copy protection and started trusting that their customers were not petty thieves. Worked out pretty well for everybody.

And today, a press release from music label EMI Music announces "EMI launches DRM-free superior sound quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire":

EMI Music today announced that it is launching new premium downloads for retail on a global basis, making all of its digital repertoire available at a much higher sound quality than existing downloads and free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.
The new higher quality DRM-free music will complement EMI’s existing range of standard DRM-protected downloads already available. From today, EMI’s retailers will be offered downloads of tracks and albums in the DRM-free audio format of their choice in a variety of bit rates up to CD quality. EMI is releasing the premium downloads in response to consumer demand for high fidelity digital music for use on home music systems, mobile phones and digital music players. EMI’s new DRM-free products will enable full interoperability of digital music across all devices and platforms.

The tracks will cost a little more — $1.29 per song rather than $0.99 — but I will happily pay thirty cents extra to get a file I can play on any music player I will ever own, now and forever, instead of a file that can only play on one particular player.

Of course, this still doesn’t do me much good, since the iTunes store is closed off to Linux users. But it’s a big step forward nonetheless, and the language in the announcement indicates that iTunes will only be the first of many outlets to which EMI will make these products available; presumably one of them will have a standard Web front-end to their store, rather than relying on a big old desktop app, so that anyone can use it.

Much praise is due to EMI for being the first label to trust its customers are actually customers and not thieves. Let’s hope this outbreak of common sense spreads quickly!