On Tuesday, at Apple’s annual MacWorld Expo it was announced that the entire iTunes catalog will become DRM free, meaning that users can now move their songs among Apple and non-Apple computers, phones, and music devices as they wish. As of today, 8 million of the iTunes songs are available without DRM and by the end of the quarter the remaining 2 million songs will be added. This news comes two years after Steve Jobs posted an open letter on Apple’s website encouraging the music industry to drop DRM.
According to an article from The New York Times, the decision to go DRM-free is actually a compromise between Apple and the major music labels – Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. In order to remove the DRM restrictions, Apple had to agree to let the record companies set a range of prices for songs in the iTunes store. By allowing a range, the companies hope to make more money on the best sellers and draw attention to the older hits. However, it is not clear why the record labels and Apple suddenly agreed to the compromise. Some speculate that the record companies held out the past few years in an effort to help strengthen competitors but now with the tough economy and declining music sales, it was time to compromise.
What does this mean for Apple’s competitors? And perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for education? Higher education institutions have been grappling with content piracy, including music, for some time now. Will DRM-free content reduce or increase this challenge? How will this shift ultimately affect movies and other content with DRM? A posting on Teleread says it best, “Well, if Apple can do it with the music industry, how long will it take publishers to wake up and notice that the playing field has changed? If past history is any example, too long, I’m afraid.”