Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Music wants to be free

Amazon recently launched its online MP3 store. What is notable about this store is that it sells MP3s. Not AACs that the iTunes store sells, not Windows Media Audio, but plain MP3s. What is even more remarkable is that these songs are not under any DRM.

Why is this significant, you ask? For the greater part of the past decade, music sold by the major labels in digital format has been under DRM. This means that after you buy the music, there's a lot of restrictions around how you can play your music. For instance, music I got from the iTunes store (courtesy a gift card last year) cannot play on my phone's music player. Music I got from MSN music won't play on an iPod or on my cool phone which doesn't license Windows Media DRM.

The reasons for this kludge are varied, including Apple's refusal to license its DRM for other music stores or players to use (cue "I hate monopolistic behavior" rant here). But the primary reason is that all four of the major record labels refused to license their music for digital distribution without copy protection.

I hated this restriction and I've avoided buying music online except from emusic which sells MP3s without any restrictions. I've moved this music around on three different desktops and a laptop, burned it to multiple CDs and played it on an iPod and two different phone music players. This kind of flexibility is not possible with DRM-ed music. Of course, the caveat is that this music is mostly from independent labels and not from major artistes.

Now, two of the four major labels allow DRM-free downloads prompting this move by Amazon. Apple's iTunes recently launched DRM-free downloads too, but they are AAC, which means that they may not necessarily play on the music player of my choice. MP3s are the most widely supported, so this new service definitely rocks.

The next step would be sale of lossless audio to be heard in full glory on hi-fi systems. The loss of fidelity in the music we listen to today as part of the iPod generation is a long post for a different day.


thedq said...

wow thats really good. I dint get this part though: can those mp3s play on your ipod/phone?

Ajay said...

Yes, DQ. MP3s are the most universal format. They'll play on your iPod/iPhone and all digital music players.