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The Sound of Copy Restrictions Crashing

The Web front page of the Apple iPod download store. Apple will soon offer unrestricted downloads.
The Web front page of the Apple iPod download store. Apple will soon offer unrestricted downloads. (By Des Jenson -- Bloomberg News)

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If Amazon's download store mirrors the outlines of its CD store, you can also expect labels to compete on price -- something Apple doesn't like.

Apple and Amazon should soon have company. In addition to the many sites that stock MP3s from smaller labels -- for example, eMusic, Amie Street and Other Music -- Yahoo has experimented with selling regular MP3s, and MySpace has revealed plans for its own MP3 store.

When copy-restriction routines no longer lock songs to certain players or programs, a few other things will change.

Music buyers can return to treating their purchases as their property -- reselling as they see fit or passing them on to their heirs. They will also be free to choose digital-music formats, programs and players based on their price and quality, instead of being limited to those supported by one download store.

Apple's iPod -- which dominated the market before the arrival of the iTunes Store -- should still do well, as should the Advanced Audio Coding format Apple uses for iTunes downloads. But Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format could be drifting onto the rocks; its biggest fans aren't users but the stores that sell copy-controlled WMA files.

Some of those users will still take music online without paying for it. DRM has yet to make a meaningful dent in that, but convenient, fairly priced and well-stocked download stores like iTunes have.

As people get in the habit of enjoying downloads from various sites on all of their devices -- not just some -- more of them may wonder why their movies remain trapped inside the usage restrictions that once encumbered their music.

Why, for example, should Apple's iTunes or Amazon's Unbox sell video downloads that can't even be burned to DVD? Doesn't the same logic apply to movies? How long until some enterprising studio makes the same decision as EMI and decides to give customers what they want?

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro atrobp@washpost.com.


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