DRM-free digital music download from Yahoo, Sony BMG

Good writeup on BBC. This Jessica Simpson track – a plain vanilla MP3 – appears to be a first, and hopefully a harbinger of a new, more user-friendly attitude on the part of content publishers and online service providers. The scoop from Yahoo!Music’s Product Management head Ian Rogers is here. Strong stuff:

Our position is simple: DRM doesn’t add any value for the artist, label (who are selling DRM-free music every day — the Compact Disc), or consumer, the only people it adds value to are the technology companies who are interested in locking consumers to a particular technology platform.
We’ve also been saying that DRM has a cost. It’s very expensive for companies like Yahoo! to implement. We’d much rather have our engineers building better … community apps, etc, instead of complex provisioning systems which at the end of the day allow you to burn a CD and take the DRM back off, anyway! And on the consumer end there is certainly some discount built into that $0.99 download… Un-DRM’d content is implicitly more valuable to a consumer.

The text-based publishing markets are in a more complicated situation: standard audio CDs can easily be losslessly copied; physical books and magazines cannot . And clearly Yahoo has an axe to grind based on their tough position of being unable to interoperate with the market leader’s DRM system, and forced to adopt another competitors’ instead. A DRM-free future would level the vendor playing field to their advantage. Nevertheless I applaud them for pushing this, and Sony/BMG for testing the waters.
And I think there’s a valuable lesson in the personalization angle that’s part of this initial experiment. While removable with effort, given a non-DRM-protected file, it is certainly a gentler way to help “help keep honest people honest”, and could be a good fit with eBooks. I would not want to see “Ex Libris Bill McCoy” books widely pirated, so I’d be likely to make sure such “stamped” books were not accidentally made public, and the determined act of modification I would have to do to remove such an “ownership stamp” would be conceptually no different than using a DRM-cracking utility. This is not a new idea of course; for example, the eReader.com DRM scheme (inherited from Peanut Press) uses encryption to encode personal information. But this still brings DRM usability issues, and their encoding my credit card number into a $10 eBook seems far less than gentle – asking me to take on disproportionate risk. Encoding trackable per-user information in images (“watermarking”) is another variation, which has promise IMO as potentially an intermediate level of protection. I consider this as “help keep honest people honest, and help find dishonest people”.