The ball has finally begun to roll toward the availability of digital music tracks without DRM restrictions. First, Apple’s iTunes introduced DRM-free EMI songs in May, albeit for a slight premium in price ($0.30 more/track). Then, Canadian online music store Puretracks followed suit, but is offering the DRM-free tracks for the same price as copy-protected ones. Now, Universal Music has decided to run a test, offering DRM-free music through several of its online music stores, like RealNetworks, Amazon, Best Buy, and WalMart. This list, however, does not include iTunes.
This is a great move on Universal’s part. Although the company hasn’t made the decision to permanently move to a DRM-free platform, this test period, said to run until January 2008, will allow Universal to monitor how well such a platform could work over the long-term. If piracy rates remain unscathed, and consumers respond favourably, this could mean a major change in the distribution of digital music.
What's more, the fact that DRM-free versions of Universal songs will not be available through iTunes might shake up Apple’s hold in the online music business. iTunes currently leads the music download landscape, having just topped three-billion song downloads last week. But if competitors offer more tunes without copy-protection, from popular Universal artists like 50 Cent, Enrique Inglesias, and Bryan Adams, iTunes might just get a run for its money.
The reality in the music industry today is that CD sales are slipping, and will continue to slip, regardless of whether digital tracks come with DRM copy-protection or not. And it seems that the industry is finally wising up to this; and we’re one step closer to music without restrictions.