Friday, June 8, 2007

Free Legal Music Downloads - Should They Be DRM Free Too?

It's what everybody's after; free, legal music downloads. In many cases it's not only the fact that people want free downloads, it's that they want their music to be unencumbered by DRM restrictions. Once they've downloaded their music, people want the ability to transport it to as many of their playback devices as they wish. The typical downloader today has a laptop, at least one desktop machine, a portable MP3 player, and possible an MP3 / WMA enabled head unit in their vehicle(s). Most consumers would like to be able to burn their music onto a CD for archival or playback on other devices that don't support any of the download formats, like a traditional CD player.

The requirements of DRM that limited them from being able to freely use their music in any or all of these devices was a prime consideration in their desire to obtain free, legal music downloads. It's typically not all about the money. There's more in play when it comes to downloads. After all, consumers have shown time and again they are more than willing to pay a fair price for a product or service if it meets their needs and expectations.

A 2005 survey of European Internet consumers by the Indicare Project revealed that 40% listened to music on MP3 players and 69% listened to music on their computers, but many were confused by DRM restrictions. Most surveyed expected to be able to transfer and burn their music downloads, and were "confused and annoyed" when unable to. With the rising popularity of not only music downloads, but the increasing popularity of video and movie downloads, this problem is likely to grow worse.

The recent announcement that and EMI that they would be releasing legal music downloads with no DRM restrictions seems to bear out the fact that such restrictions are actually of dubious benefit to the recording and movie industries, despite vicious prosecution of many downloaders by industry associations such as the RIAA. In fact EMI is the 4th largest record label group in the world, and you can be sure they have studied the DRM / downloading issue ad nausem.

The reality of the situation is that consumers want to be able to do with their downloads as they please, especially if they've paid for them, and the restrictions posed by DRM are actually hurting the industry. Unless it can be shown that a substantial percentage of those who availed themselves of free music downloads would have actually purchased similar content had they not downloaded the music some other way, the music industry will suffer by continuing to impose such restrictions. Actually the number of people who avoid DRM encumbered, legal downloads altogether due to portability issues will continue to contribute to the decline in music sales, when music downloads should be creating a much larger revenue stream for the recording industry and the artists.

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