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DRM deathwatch: Sony capitulating soon

According to an article in Business Week today, Sony BMG will become the last of the four major labels to begin selling DRM-free tunes.

Looks like the first (and easiest) of my 2008 predictionsis more or less coming true by the end of March. According to a story in today's Business Week, unnamed sources at Sony BMG have said that the company will sell at least some songs without DRM by the end of the first quarter. We've heard this rumorbefore: apparently Sony BMG will participate in a promotion sponsored by Pepsi in which soda buyers get free MP3 downloads from Amazon's music store.

This would be a remarkable turnaround for a company that didn't even let its portable players play MP3s until Sept. 2004--helping Apple's iPod gain a huge lead--and once upon a time surreptitiously installed copy-protection software on users' computers (that incident was the beginning of the end of DRM, in my opinion).

So what changed Sony's mind? According to Business Week, the company has quietly been experimenting with DRM-free files for artists that sell less than 100,000 downloads, and at least one such artist got "mainstream exposure." In other words, as independent musicians have known for a long time, people who download and trade files are the biggest music fans and actually buy more music than non-file-traders. Make your music readily available to those people, and you have a better chance of building a career.