updated 08:45 am EDT, Fri August 10, 2007
Universal Music DRM Free
Universal Music Group announced late yesterday that it will sell at least some of its music catalog online without copy protection over the course of the next few months. Considered an experiment by the major music label, the project will run between August and January and will gauge the effect that removing digital rights management (DRM) has on both sales and on piracy. There are no immediate conditions applied to the success of the test, but the company has implied that it will extend the test or make the DRM-free option permanent if the results prove worthwhile. The latter decision would likely make a significant impact on the music industry, as Universal is the largest global music label and could create a ripple effect for smaller labels.
The test will primarily offer music through companies that have readily adopted DRM, such as RealNetworks' Rhapsody and Wal-Mart, as well as artist pages and companies that have opted out of protected formats, such as Amazon's MP3-only store and an unknown project from Google.
Absent from the list, however, is the iTunes Store. Universal has not explained why it has omitted the Apple-run service from the trial run, but is widely believed to be retaliating against what it sees as unfair influence by Apple on Universal and on the music business as a whole through the former's status as the leading online store. Universal has continued to sell its catalog on iTunes but recently refused long-term contracts in part to allow it the flexibility of offering exclusives to other stores and therefore encourage competition.
The decision to try music without safeguards also casts doubts on claims that Universal's attitude was spurred by opposition to iTunes Plus, as the label appears to be shifting away from a pro-DRM stance in a manner similar to rival label EMI, which had previously insisted on copy protection but offered all of its catalog without protection at an elevated price beginning in April.