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European Music Execs Dissatisfied With DRM

Could 2007 be the year that one of the major music companies breaks ranks and gives up on DRM?

European music executives believe dropping digital rights management (DRM) restrictions from digital music would drive song sales, according to a new Jupiter Research survey. Major record labels, however, remain unconvinced.

Hackers have been attacking DRM for years, quite successfully for the most part. Just this week, they cracked the Blu-ray Disc protection codes. But recently industry leaders have joined them, calling for an end to DRM, at least for music. Last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs challenged record labels to offer music for sale without DRM, noting that "DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy."

Last year at the Music 2.0 conference in Los Angeles, Yahoo Music chief Dave Goldberg said much the same thing. He reiterated his opposition to DRM this week in an article published by Silicon Valley Watcher. (Coincidentally, he resigned today.) Other tech executives have added their voices to the call to unlock digital music.

Jupiter's European Music Executive Survey, 2007 reveals that most of the music industry respondents -- a group composed of employees of major and independent record labels, industry and rights groups, digital stories, and services and technology providers -- feel the same way.

Among the executives surveyed, 62% agreed that dropping DRM would drive adoption of digital music and 54% said that DRM was overly restrictive. Presented with the statement "DRM is essential for online music," 56% of respondents disagreed.

Only 11% of those surveyed believe that DRM-free music would threaten revenues.

While consumers tend to resent DRM because it forces restrictions on upon them and treats them as criminals, Jupiter's report says that much of the music industry's dissatisfaction with the technology comes from dissatisfaction with Apple's dominance of the digital music download market.

It's worth noting that Apple's FairPlay DRM is far more effective at preventing competitors from making devices that interoperate with the iPod and iTunes -- thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- than it is in preventing iTunes customers from copying songs they've bought online.

In the music market at least, DRM's days may be numbered. British music company EMI has been experimenting with distributing unprotected digital downloads and is reportedly reviewing its position on content protection technology for CDs.

James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester Research, predicts that 2007 will be the year that one of the major music companies breaks ranks and gives up on DRM. Once that happens, he says, the rest will feel they have to follow.

When that day arrives, it may not be the end of the world. "There's no evidence that a DRM-free world is more injurious than the one in which we already live," says McQuivey. "There's no evidence it's going to suddenly ignite a new firestorm of piracy and anarchy."

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