First came EMI’s test of selling music free of digital rights management (DRM) with Yahoo. Then Steve Jobs let fly with his “Thoughts on Music” open letter (see “Steve Jobs Blasts DRM,” 2007-02-12), and Apple followed it several months later with the announcement that the iTunes Store would sell DRM-free tracks from EMI (see “Apple and EMI Offer DRM-Free Music via iTunes,” 2007-04-02). Next, Amazon.com jumped into the fray with Amazon MP3’s DRM-free downloads from EMI and Universal (see “Amazon MP3 Takes on the iTunes Store,” 2007-09-25, and “Apple Cuts iTunes Plus Price to 99 Cents,” 2007-10-16).
With EMI and Universal offering DRM-free music, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG were the remaining holdouts, and in the last few weeks, both have caved. In late December 2007, Amazon announced that DRM-free tracks from Warner Music would be available via Amazon MP3. And on 10-Jan-08, Amazon repeated the announcement with Sony BMG, the fourth of the major music labels (and the one that intentionally installed spyware on Windows PCs in an insane attempt to prevent CDs from being copied).
Amazon MP3 now claims 3.1 million tracks, all without any DRM. Apple says the iTunes Store has over 6 million songs, but only iTunes Plus tracks from EMI aren’t hampered by Apple’s FairPlay DRM. In April 2007, in the announcement of the iTunes Plus tracks, Steve Jobs said, “We expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year.”
It’s now 2008, and I’m happy to give Apple a two-week grace period if one of the announcements at Macworld Expo is that all the music in the iTunes Store will become available in DRM-free format. Otherwise, any moral high ground Apple may have achieved with the “Thoughts on Music” letter and subsequent promotion of iTunes Plus tracks will be ceded to Amazon.
And yes, I realize that this decision is not Apple’s to make unilaterally, and if Apple isn’t just sitting on an announcement until the Macworld Expo keynote, the spotlight will then focus on the labels that are playing favorites with Amazon over Apple.