April 3, 2007
EMI To Unlock iTunes Downloads
Yesterday's announcement from EMI and Apple, that users of iTunes will be able to buy "premium" downloads that aren't copy-protected, signals a new chapter in the history of digital media: one in which they finally acknowledge the inevitable - that their precious intellectual property is going to get copied no matter what they do to try and discourage that. It's also an acknowledgement that this is perhaps not such a bad thing.
Market research suggests that people who copy a lot also buy a lot. They are music lovers, and they just love to hear new stuff. The same goes for video: every person I know who downloads movies and TV shows from peer-to-peer networks has a massive (frankly, an embarrassingly massive) DVD collection, to boot.
If your song or album or TV show or movie is good, then those copies circulating through cyberspace are actually advertising that fact. If people like it, they may well buy an official copy of it. Or they might buy the next song/album/TV show/movie you make. This has made it possible for self-marketed music to enter into the mainstream without the need for million-dollar marketing campaigns or support from the mainstream media.
The announcement from EMI and Apple is good news for music lovers and music makers. Freeing online music from the shackles of Digital Rights Management will make it easier for the data to flow, and this will make it easier for the good music to find the people who will love it most.
The trend is obvious. Over the last decade or so both technology and tech culture have been gradually moving away from the old-fashioned model of making money by controlling access to intellectual property. It's been a very short-sighted strategy to build electric fences around our inventions, because - while it might protect us from the short-term consequences of IP theft (or "plagiarism", as it used to be called) - in the longer term it restricts the open flow of ideas and slows the pace of innovation in the round.
I worked with a company once whose policy was to discourage their developers from openly discussing their technology with outsiders. This, they argued, would protect their intellectual property and be a smart business move. But where did their ideas come from in the first place? Did they invent everything from scratch? Of course they didn't. Most of their innovations were built on top of existing ideas that had found their way in to the business from the outside. Their software owed more to the likes of IBM, Xerox and even Microsoft (no, really) than they might care to admit.
Intellectual altruism is as viable a strategy for long-term survival as physical altruism is in many animal species - including ours. When we won't share our toys, we risk encouraging others we come into contact with to follow suit, leading us into a very selfish economy of scarce ideas, where most of our resources are wasted protecting the IP we have instead of innovating to create exciting and valuable new ideas.
The next logical step will be for other music publishers to follow suit.
Posted 1 week ago on April 3, 2007