Apple announced last week that iTunes will offer all songs without Digital Rights Management software, meaning the music will no longer be protected by copyright software that restricts play to authorized devices.
As a result, most songs bought on iTunes can now be played on almost any computer or device, including non-Apple mp3 players.
Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing for Apple, made the announcement at Macworld 2009, an electronics trade show in San Francisco.
Schiller also announced that all songs will have higher quality encoding and in April, iTunes will introduce tiered pricing for its songs. Instead of all songs being 99 cents, some will be available for 69 cents, 99 cents, or $1.29.
“We’ve worked with the four major record companies [Universal music Group, EMI, Sony BRG and Warner Music Group] and starting today, we are going to offer eight million of the songs all DRM-free,” Schiller said in his address. “And by the end of this quarter we’ll finish out the two million more and all 10 million songs on iTunes will now be DRM-free.”
iTunes Plus offers DRM-free music already, as do iTunes competitors Amazon.com and Napster, but Schiller said the whole store will be DRM-free by the end of the quarter in April.
In a 2007 essay, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the record companies wanted DRM to protect from music piracy. Many consumers have argued that DRM does little to stop piracy and that the costs of DRM are greater than the benefits.
Andrew Hargadon, associate professor at UC Davis’ Graduate School of Management, said the change in stance likely came with the availability of tiered pricing.
“I think what we had there is a trade,” Hargadon said. “[The record companies] want to be able to get more out of the songs that are hot right now.”
Hargadon said he worked for Apple in the early 1990’s and has followed the company closely ever since. He said pairing tiered pricing with DRM-free music helps the record companies and consumers deal with the changes.
Hemant Bhargava, another professor in the Graduate School of Management, said the change could be an effort to break Apple’s monopoly on the digital music market.
“One of the things that happened here is the record labels wanted to break Apple’s monopoly,” Bhargava said. “I think it breaks Apple’s stronghold.”
Still, Bhargava also said this might not make a big change in the market because people will likely stick with their habits. Students shared similar opinions.
Kimberly Smith, an undeclared first-year student, has an iPod Touch and buys music from iTunes. She said Apple continues to offer new and improved products, so just because she can play iTunes songs on other players doesn’t mean she will.
“I really like Mac products so I don’t think it would make a difference,” Smith said. “Why not stay with products I like?”
As far as piracy, many students said the ability to share music more freely would not change their buying habits.
“The music that I buy primarily is music that my friends don’t listen to,” said Jonathan Dunsworth, a junior history major. “But I’m greatly going to appreciate that I can listen to my music on any computer.”
Dunsworth said the decision to go DRM-free is a good decision for Apple because it allows freer access. Hargadon said it was a good decision because these are the changes necessary to keep Apple from becoming obsolete.
“If they continued to keep people out and annoy the record company, they’d run the risk of becoming the Walkman next,” Hargadon said. “It’s about keeping it viable for the next thing.”
ELYSSA THOME can be reached at email@example.com.