As promised by Apple, the iTunes store has gone DRM-free for the entire EMI catalog.  This is great news and I applaud Apple for taking this big step forward.  Apple has been widely criticised for having created the perfect lock-in with the iTunes software, the iTunes store and iPod.  Steve Jobs, in his open message gave some pretty weak arguments for not licensing the FairPlay DRM to other software/music providers.  I have to admit, I was very sure that Steve Jobs was just trying to deflect the heat off of Apple and trying to put the blame on the record companies for the DRM. In his message, Jobs claimed that Apple would embrace DRM-free music in a heartbeat. I did not believe him for a second. However, I am glad that Steve Jobs has delivered on his promise.

When Apple finally announced that EMI’s music would be available on iTunes without any DRM, I had some misgivings about the way it would be presented to the user in the iTunes store and if the user would be clearly told what he/she stands to gain by paying 30% extra for the same music. Again, I am glad to see that Apple has done a good job in implementing the DRM-free feature. The DRM-free music is branded as a separate section of the store called “iTunes Plus” and Apple has has provided enough visual cues to encourage users to consider buying the higher priced, higher quality and DRM-free versions instead of the DRM-encumbered versions.  The user has the option of turning on the iTunes Plus store in the preferences so that the DRM-free version of the songs/album is shown when browsing, if available. All the songs are shown with a plus sign to indicate that they are part of the iTunes Plus offering. Whole albums are still priced the same as the DRM-encumbered versions, so you actually get a better quality at the same price if you buy it DRM-free. In the FAQs, Apple clearly states what restrictions DRM imposes and what the iTunes Plus version does away with.

As pointed out by TUAW, the DRM-free songs purchased on iTunes (intentionally or unintentionally) contain the buyer’s identity, which serves as a deterrent to sharing.  This is good — EMI did their part by giving users the freedom to do what they want to do with their purchased music, now the users need to do their part by being honest and not promoting music piracy.

iTunes Plus has addressed all but one concerns that I had about Apple’s approach to free itself from DRM. It has convinced me that Apple is serious about trying to make DRM die a horrible death that it deserves to. I am still bothered by the higher price, but a better quality encoding and no increase in album prices makes it more bearable.  I hope that this experiment is successful so that other music companies realise that they have to get rid of DRM or lose out.  I also hope that movies on the iTunes store will follow suit too.

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