Universal Music Goes Naked Without Copy Protection
By: Spacelab Research Staff
Stepping into the brave new world of digital media, Universal Music has announced plans to sell music without copy protection, also known as digital rights management. DRM is starting to be seen as something that prevents people from buying music, rather than protecting the tracks, and Universal Music is looking test out a new strategy.
Starting later this month, Universal will offer the DRM-free tracks through outlets like Google, Wal-Mart, Best Buy Digital Music Store, Rhapsody, Transworld, Passalong Networks, Amazon.com and Puretracks; artist and label websites will be included as well. Notice who's missing? It's iTunes.
Seen largely as a power play, Universal is forming a sort of insurgency against Apple in the hopes that it can create a movement of its own. Maybe Universal is tired of having rules dictated to it by Apple, and wants to forge out on its own.
Apple uses the iTunes music store to support the sale of iPods more than to make money off of music sales, so they prefer to keep most of its music at 99 cents per song. Universal and Apple have negotiated in the past, but the outcome of that now seems apparent as Universal is going their own way. Some major labels wanted to make music available for what they call variable pricing, i.e. raising the price for more sought after tracks. Apple said no.
Now Universal is pursuing other paths with the new outlets, adding the freedom of selling music without restrictions. It's seen largely as a move to keep up with EMI's announcement [link] that they'll do the same, albeit with iTunes. Same but different, see? The tracks will be offered in MP3 format, with 256 kbps encoding for improved sound quality.
But there's more to this story. Universal is only offering selected tracks for DRM-free distribution through the end of the year, a sort of pilot project to test the DRM-free waters, allowing them an exit strategy. Maybe the Pentagon should have included Universal Music Group in the Iraq war planning? Ooops, that was a cheap shot. I digress...
“This test, which is a continuation of a series of tests that UMG began conducting earlier in the year, will provide valuable insights into the implications of selling our music in an open format,” said Universal in a statement.
This follows a busy week for Universal Music, in which they bought music website LOUD.com and announced intentions to buy V2 Music Group .