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Banging on the DRM

I’ll have more to say on the Apple-EMI DRM announcement in an upcoming Portable Pundit column in LAPTOP (and perhaps elsewhere), but for now I’ve been a bit taken aback at the many jumps to conclusion I’ve seen around EMI “ditching” DRM. It has done no such thing. It has merely offered a non-DRM option, one that still penalizes consumers in terms of making them pay more for extra quality for which they may have no desire. Ryan has framed many of the variables in providing a realistic assessment of the announcement, breaking a bit from Engadget’s typically consumerist anti-DRM crusade.

Sure, EMI’s decision has been accurately touted as a significant first step. But what if it remains the only step? It’s far from a foregone conclusion that other majors will step in line, and so the value of having only some tracks available DRM-free diminsihes the value of having one’s music library DRM-free. In fact, I could argue that — for iPod users — it is easier to stay within the DRM usage constraints than try to keep track of what’s DRM-free and what’s not, particularly when accepting DRM is cheaper , works with what they have, and offers a gateway to the living room. Apple will be challenged in terms of how it presents the choice to consumers because it has, up to now, rightly hid DRM until it has reared its annoying head.

Apple and EMI could have made this a clear victory if they removed the DRM option, but it appears as if profits got ahead of promise. Consumers, not labels, will determine the success of DRM-free music.