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April 3, 2007

Digital downloading: unlocked download tracks the key to success

EMI's announcement that it is to remove Digital Rights Management software from premium digital downloads on iTunes should come as welcome news to retailers. DRM has done little to tackle the issue of piracy and, if anything, is acting as a bar on market growth.

By CBR Staff Writer

EMI is to remove Digital Rights Management software from digital downloads.

Keen to prevent growth in the piracy which has plagued the UK music market greatly over recent years, the industry backed the idea of Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is a copyright protection system that locks tracks purchased from legal download sites until a valid password is provided. Also it restricts tracks so they can only be played on a limited number of devices, like iPods and PCs, ‘authorized’ by the user.

However, the technology has not been successful. Pirates have continued unabated by simply copying or burning CDs – which do not have DRM. Also, many – otherwise law abiding – consumers download songs from illegal websites. If anything, DRM has acted as a bar on market growth as the technology increases complexity for the consumer and lacks essential flexibility.

Unfortunately for the music industry, it was late to join the downloading party. While file sharing software has facilitated illegal downloading since the end of the last millennium, legal services were not launched on any significant scale until 2004. With illegal downloading well established, new legal services are viewed by many as an overpriced, difficult to use and inflexible alternative.

This latest move seeks to address this and, interestingly, has little downside. Although there is clearly a degree of risk being taken by EMI as consumers will be able to share files they buy, this is of little consequence, since tracks are already widely available for illegal downloaders. But, most importantly, the removal of DRM, reinforced by an improvement to quality of sound on these ‘premium’ tracks, provides consumers with a strong competitor to illegal file sharing.

In the end, no amount of technology will ever hinder illegal downloading. For the record labels and retailers alike, the key is to provide a quality, competitively priced alternative. This is a good first step. Hopefully, the rest of the industry will follow suit.

Source: Verdict Research

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