Intellectual Property

The End of DRM?

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Recording giant EMI has announced that beginning in May, it will offer its entire music catalog in digital form free of any DRM restrictions. The songs will cost 30 cents more than your standard 99-cent iTunes cut, but users can update previously purchased EMI-owned songs only for the extra 30 cents. The songs will come in 256 kbps, making them indistinguishable from CDS, and playable on high-fidelity speakers. They'll also be playable on MP3 devices other than iPods.

This is a huge development, and a decided victory for music consumers. It also makes Steve Jobs look like a hero. Maybe the mass and once-inevitable anti-Apple backlash won't come after all.

Hat tip:  Tim Lee.

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  1. will offer its entire music catalog in digital form free of any DRM restrictions

    There’s unlimited supply.

    Hello, EMI. Goodbye. Pfffffft!

  2. The Beatles’ catalog is not included. Any new additions to their online catalog are not included. How is that their entire music catalog then?

  3. And Jobs, who continues to strangle his company’s market share by clinging to his own proprietary systems, is a hero because . . . ?

  4. If this had been realesed yesterday I wouldn’t have believed it.

  5. High#:

    .. the better stuff?

    de stijl – better. you still have a long ways to go to make up for the “tuck dance” reference.

  6. As I understand it, Jobs is letting go of the proprietary stuff on the EMI cuts, and has promised to do the same for any other label that strips DRM code from its catalog.

    That’s a pretty good “put your money where your mouth is” move if you ask me.

  7. Good news, mostly.

    The songs will come in 256 kbps, making them indistinguishable from CDS, and playable on high-fidelity speakers.

    Nonsense. CD rate is approximately 1,400 kbps and many people, even casual listeners, can tell the difference side by side. Also, you can play any rate through any type of speaker. This language sounds like a regurgitated press release

    More in this vein.

  8. Because god knows there were no workarounds like burning a DRM-encoded iTunes file to CD and then re-ripping it to iTunes wouldn’t let you do the same thing…

  9. Ashley,
    Excellent points. [golf clap]

    BTW can we do the ‘golf clap’ anymore. Golf crowds have gotten as unruly as… well not soccer crowds, but say um, tennis crowds. Which have also become less civil.

  10. This language sounds like a regurgitated press release

    Well, it is from the award-winning newsroom at iTunes.com.

  11. Radley – as was pointed out at Slashdot, the downloads will still be in AAC format, which I don’t think any player by the iPod uses. Of course, conversion software to make it mp3 exists, so maybe this is less of a “walled garden” to force people to use iPods with iTunes.

  12. CD rate is approximately 1,400 kbps

    Source? Every reference I’ve ever seen said 256.

    many people, even casual listeners, can tell the difference side by side

    O rly?

  13. The AAC format is supported by quite a few players:

    Check out Wikipedia

    And AAC is not propietary to Apple. It’s offered on similar terms to mp3.

  14. Yeah, I beg to differ to at whether the human ear can tell the diff between 256k and full on CD sound. Unless you’re playing the music through a set of Infinity IRS Vs. Which aren’t exactly cheap.

  15. Why is it “Big Tunes” goes apeshit over digital music copying–but my favorite Used CD store on the corner has business as usual? I have not bought a new CD is years.

    Or should I not ask?

  16. Nonsense. CD rate is approximately 1,400 kbps and many people, even casual listeners, can tell the difference side by side. Also, you can play any rate through any type of speaker. This language sounds like a regurgitated press release

    I hear what you are saying… But the 1400 kbps that CDs use is uncompressed, where mp3 file bitrates use compression. A CD is definitly way better than the default 128kbps of most MP3 files… The 320kbps is very very close to CD quality – It is highly unlikely you would notice the difference unless you are listening with high-end equipment in a room with proper acoustics. You would not notice the difference listening to it in the factory stereo of your toyota, and certainly wouldn’t notice the difference in your ear-pods.

    The max quality of audio recording on the standard DVD is 384kbps… however, the most common DVD rate is 192 kbps… the AC3 algorithm is a bit different than MP3, but not THAT much better. When you listen to the pristine high quality DVD audio on your big new entertainment system, the audio quality is most likely comparible to a 192kbit mp3. The only real difference is the extra channels they use with surround sound. The 256kbps that itunes are selling will probably be a better sound quality than your Lord of The Rings DVD.

    I buy CDs, so I definitly am not disagreeing with you in theory. But in reality, mp3s are not as bad as people want to make them out to be. In fact, if I am listening to music for extended periods (such as listening to music in headphones while I am working), I get less ear fatigue with MP3 than I do the origional audio. I prefer mp3s when listening to headphones for long periods.

  17. AC-

    44100 samples/s ? 16 bit/sample ? 2 channels = 1411.2 kbit/s

    I think 256 is often batted around as “CD quality“.

    As for the Perpetual Argument, personally, I think it depends on what you listen to. For general rock and pop, it is hard to tell the difference. Classical I can tell a difference.

  18. 256 kbs still sounds pretty thin, depending on the speakers. But this is a positive development, and consumers will have access to more content.

    Besides, people who think the iPod earbuds sound good probably can’t tell the difference between a 256kps MP3 and my gas pains anyway.

  19. This is awesome. I’m an Apple nut. I’m wearing an Apple t-shirt as I type this, but there was no way I was going to buy iTunes; their DRM license allowed terms that in no way resembled true ownership of the music files. Now I’m going to buy as many of the unprotected tunes as I can without my wife yelling at me.

  20. Forget mathematics. MP3s take away sound quality (they do), but it really doesn’t matter in many applications. Playing a track in my home studio, I can tell the difference. Playing a track on my computer at work? Not so much.

  21. 256 kbs still sounds pretty thin, depending on the speakers. But this is a positive development, and consumers will have access to more content.

    256 kbs is BETTER sound quality than most DVDs!

    44100 samples/s ? 16 bit/sample ? 2 channels = 1411.2 kbit/s

    I think 256 is often batted around as “CD quality”.

    No, you can not compare the bit rate of uncompressed audio, with the bitrate of compressed audio. CD bitrate is simply a raw stream of 16 bit numbers that correspond to amplitude – mp3 bitrate is lower, in part, because the data is stored more intelligently than just a string of uncompressed numbers.

    Now, mp3 is lossy, because it works by removing inaudible and barely audible parts of the sound, and only keeps the audible parts… But there is not a linear relationship between sound quality and bit rate.

    If you take a CD quality 44.1khz wave file, and you cut it down to an 22khz wave file, the 22khz file will still be bigger than a 128kbps mp3 of the CD quality audio, but the 128kps file will sound way better than the 22khz file. The bitrates are not the same thing.

  22. How about the fact that Apple (Jobs) doesn’t want to be held accountable for piracy of their iTunes being unlocked and posted on a P2P? As far as the supposedly upgraded sound quality that you get for 30 cents, who cares? I’ll take it one small step at a time. Besides, you can always do some wave editing to get the sound you want if it’s that important to you.

  23. Ramon: My Not-Ipod player (an iAudio X5) plays AAC.

    George: You can’t edit quality into a sound file that isn’t there to start with. Once the frequencies are stripped, they’re gone.

  24. Kim,

    My error. You’re right.

  25. A music company does something intelligent…it’s shocking, isn’t it?

    (I did think this was an April Fool’s joke, at first!)

  26. Radley writes: “As I understand it, Jobs is letting go of the proprietary stuff on the EMI cuts, and has promised to do the same for any other label that strips DRM code from its catalog.”

    As far as I know, the only thing proprietary *is* the DRM.

  27. Also, there’d be no point in Apple making the EMI tracks be proprietary-but-DRM-free: by virtue of being DRM-free, there’d be nothing to prevent the user from converting the file to a non-proprietary format.

  28. I am perhaps overly-skeptical, but I think the large majority of people will elect to pay 99 cents per track rather than the 1.29. I’m perfectly happy with 160kpbs, and I can burn my purchases to CD. If I really really want DRM-free mp3s, I can just rip it right back down.

    I think music labels are about to learn that DRM is a major major issue for a minor minor audience.

    (that’s not to say this additional choice and this move to DRM-free is not a good thing.)

  29. Well, maybe the one bright side of iTunes introducing variable pricing will be the end of the idiotic restriction that you can only buy from the store “located” in the country where your credit card is issued. There are tons of tracks on iTunes UK, iTunes Italy or iTunes Japan that are not available in the US that I’d love to get, but can’t. Why? What sense does this possibly make? How does it make sense that I am physically located in Dusseldorf, Germany right now as I write this comment but I can’t buy from iTunes Germany since I don’t have a German credit card? Who benefits from this arrangement? Wouldn’t one of iTunes strongest competitive advantages theoretically be allowing people to find access to music all over the world they might otherwise never get?

  30. Wouldn’t one of iTunes strongest competitive advantages theoretically be allowing people to find access to music all over the world they might otherwise never get?

    Let me rephrase that for you to solve the mystery:

    Wouldn’t one of EMI’s strongest competitive advantages theoretically be allowing people to find access to music all over the world they might otherwise never get?

    The record companies’ restrictions forced these things onto Apple. I’m quite sure they’d love to sell anything to anybody with cash in hand, but record companies are notorious for substituting legal restrictions for competitiveness.

  31. EMI doing something intelligent…well record companies might just be pulling their fingers out.

  32. “256 kbs is BETTER sound quality than most DVDs!”

    Yeah, I know, 256kbs is better than the archangel’s lullaby. Any other subjective statements you’d like to assert as fact?

  33. obligatory bleep.com reference: 320kbs, good music, no drm, full previews basically. get all those gescom out of print joints you wanted.

    http://www.bleep.com/?label=Gescom

    actually, with my cowon f2 (2gb, fm tuner, 18 hours battery life, only slightly ugly, great eq once you fiddle with it, even plays video blah blah blah UMS transfer etc, $100 ha ha) i can download bleep.com tracks at work, dump them to my cowon (which acts like a thumb drive with no frontend a la itunes) and bring them home.

    it’s, how you say, good?

    sorry, i’m a “fuck apple” kick lately. (this is being posted from a mac, oddly enough)

  34. and you can get em in flac too:

    http://www.bleep.com/?label=FLAC

    get that copy of hangable auto bulb you always wanted for ten bucks.

  35. Yeah, I know, 256kbs is better than the archangel’s lullaby. Any other subjective statements you’d like to assert as fact?

    I did back it up, you moron! DVDs us AC3 compression, which is similiar quality to mp3 (AC3 allows . The most common DVD bitrate is 192bps. 192 is a lower bitrate than 256. There is nothing subjective about what I am saying. 256kbps mp3 is higher fidelity than virtually all movie DVDs, period, end of story.

  36. So you’re saying that a 256 bps MP3 (16 bit/44.1khz) sounds better than 24 bit at 192khz uncompressed?

    I don’t know about that. I think you may be confusing a sample rate from an audio DVD (192khz) with the bit rate of an MP3 (192bps). With audio DVDs, regular stereo can go up to 192 khz at 24 bits, uncompressed. Methinks, and mesamoron, but methinks you may have confused some of your research. DVD audio is much, much higher quality than MP3. Comparing DVD audio to MP3 is like claiming your Yugo is faster than a Corvette.

    Of course, if you are talking about the soundtrack on a movie DVD, you’ll get no argument from me. Those things sound like shit.

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