iTunes Plus Gives Music Lovers More Bytes, Less DRM
Apple launched iTunes Plus yesterday, the new version of iTunes (for which an upgrade to iTunes 7.2 is required) that sells DRM free music at higher bit rates. It all came out of recording label EMI's decision to allow its wares to be sold without copy protection at a slightly higher price. The DRM-free music will sell on iTunes for $1.29 instead of .99 cents per track. What you get are files encoded in 256 kbps, higher fidelity than the usual 128 bit MP3 that has become the industry standard. The most important development is that they're DRM free.
DRM or Digital Rights Management has dogged digital music collectors for some time. It's a layer of coding over your music files that prevents you from copying it wherever or however many times you please. This is implemented in several different ways depending on the DRM you're using. The company that provides the music file usually determines the DRM. So, if you've ever bought a music file for .99 cents from Apple's iTunes it will be encoded with Apple's own DRM called FairPlay. This prevents you from copying it to any other computer than the one that bought it and syncs your iPod. This has been a hassle for iTunes users who have to switch computers or have to restore from backup.
DRM free music has been what most people want from the beginning. The use of DRM by the recording industry brings up issues of consumer rights and freedoms. Fair Use is a buzzword for all the issues surrounding what a consumer has a right to do with the property he buys in the form of digital media. Do you have a right to make backups of your own digital media? Most digital content providers feel you don't and want to make you pay extra for the right to fair use of your private property. Most people don't think of heady philosophical issues like the definition of private property when they buy a DRM endowed MP3 and get frustrated with their inability to copy it to their hard drive. But that's exactly what is at stake.
I'll be interested to see how well the new iTunes does. I suspect people will be willing to pay a little extra for DRM free music and therefore it should be a success. For the sake of continued freedoms - let's hope I'm right.