Warner Music goes DRM-free in Europe

Is the Warner deal the beginning of the end for DRM in music?

Online music store 7digital today claimed to be the first major European download store to offer tracks from Warner in a DRM-free MP3 format, compatible with virtually any digital music device.

The online music store will make selected albums from Warner Music’s repertoire available for a limited promotional period at the price of £5/€6.99. It also plans to offer "value-added album bundles that contain additional content" in order to offer online consumers better value for money - and a viable reason not to obtain their music freely via P2P file-sharing.

7digital has been selling EMI’s back catalogue in MP3 since April of last year. The company’s marketing director, Peter Davias, informed TechRadar earlier today that he expects the other two of the 'big four' major music labels, Sony BMG and Universal to follow suit by this summer.

“The only other store that carries DRM-free Warner tunes is Amazon in the US,” said Davias. Amazon’s US store already sells DRM-free music from all the above-mentioned major music labels and it is expected that its UK and European stores will also follow do so sometime later this year.

Play.com announced its PlayDigital service last month in the UK, but EMI is the only big label involved, alongside independents.

Universal and Sony to follow

“We are also talking to Universal and Sony BMG about distributing their catalogues in a DRM-free format – we’re talking to them quite a lot about switching over and there are lots of tests going on throughout the world with MP3,” 7digital’s Davias told us.

“We believe they will come on board around summertime this year,” he added. “They are following the trend that the market is taking in the last 18 months… firstly EMI, then Warner, then the Amazon MP3 store in the US.

“Of course, they are cautious about the rampant P2P sharing that’s going on,” Davias informed us. But at the same time they are also coming to realise that “stripping the DRM off the content allows users to experience music and also allows far greater interoperability – so you can use the MP3s on iPods, mobiles, PCs, Macs… it’s an open format."

Universal Music Group International’s vice president of Communications, Adam White, remained fairly tight-lipped on the matter when TechRadar spoke to him today. He merely told us: “We’re still evaluating the tests we’re doing in the US and internationally”.

What of Apple?

“Digital consumers are very savvy and many take the stance that the AAC format is a better quality than the MP3 format,” Davias claims.

“However, where Apple’s standard encoding rate is 192 kbps, with 256 kpbs on iTunes Plus (currently limited to just EMI), we ensure that our MP3s are better than Apple’s AACs and encoded at a higher bitrate,” he added.

DRM-free movies

With all the major music labels finally shifting towards DRM-free online distribution, will the movie industry follow suit? The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s senior intellectual property attorney, Fred von Lohmann, is not so sure. He told us:

“I would be very surprised if a major movie studio were to give up DRM on any video format. They have managed to use DRM to control the next-generation video playback platforms, and I see no indication they are interested in giving that up.”

Adam Hartley