DRM-free MP3s starting to attract major players

Posted by Mark Raby

Sunnyvale (CA) - As more MP3 players enter the market, with increasing confusion over digital security and copyright licenses, a couple major record labels are part of a new initiative to offer files that are stripped of all digital restrictions.

Currently, the most popular places for buying digital music, like iTunes and Sony Connect, encode all purchased songs such that they can only be directly transferred to specific MP3 players. The file being purchased is actually a proprietary format that can't be transferred to other music store applications and carries restrictions about external transferring to a music player.

Regular MP3 files can usually be played on any player and users have more flexibility with the file on their computer, and that's the kind of flexibility into which some record labels are looking.

Yahoo's music store has been the main provider of this new push to MP3s without digital rights management (DRM) encoding. In July, it put up such a version of Jessica Simpson's "A Public Affair" as a $1.99 download. Following that, Yahoo offered an entire CD from Jesse McCartney with DRM-free tracks.

The entire purpose of the DRM architecture is to prevent illegal copying and playback of purchased content. However, devoted music pirates don't even need to worry about this barrier because there are other illegal, peer-to-peer options that allow users to download MP3 files for free with no DRM restrictions attached to them.

Additionally, users can burn CDs from most online music stores and rip the tracks back onto a computer to get rid of the DRM restrictions. The fact is that sticking a digital tag to a purchased music file does very little to prevent music piracy and is mainly something for the content providers to use to maintain exclusivity for their platform.

With Sony BMG and Disney's Hollywood Records both dabbling in the market of selling unrestricted MP3s, it could be a sign of a reversal back to more simplistic music downloading technology. "They're still looking at it as an experiment but the labels have really come a long way in terms of wanting to see how this works for them," said Yahoo spokesperson Carrie Davis.