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MP3 Players

Sony BMG to ditch music DRM: One step at a time

Sony is expected to announce plans to ditch DRM on its music downloads in the coming weeks, connected with a promotion with Amazon's MP3 download store

Just as Sony gets its groove on after Warner's recent decision to exclusively support the Blu-ray HD disc format, the company's musical arm is apparently preparing to wrap DRM up in a black bin liner, drag it kicking and screaming to the nearest river, and dump the struggling swine into its murky depths.

But before you strip off for a naked celebration around the nearest tree, there are, as you might expect, some finer details to be aware of.

Firstly, only a part of Sony BMG's massive catalogue will be made available DRM-free, and only via an upcoming promotion with Amazon's MP3 download store. Amazon plans to give away one billion DRM-free songs, including those from major labels, as of 1 February. Sadly, as Amazon's MP3 store is US-only, the UK will not be eligible for participation. That's not the part to dwell on, however, and here's why.

By going DRM-free somewhere, we clearly see that the last DRM-supporting major label is deciding to swagger into the sans-protection house party to join EMI, et al. This can only be a good thing. It would be unreasonable to expect a major label to jump in at the deep end without at least dipping into the shallow first, and any serious first step is something to celebrate.

What should also be expected is watermarking; it's possible to inaudibly watermark DRM-free music. Universal watermarks the songs it sells through Amazon's MP3 store (though it doesn't link each track to the individual who bought it), and given Sony's brazen past efforts to cover its arse in the digital era, we think it highly likely it will watermark its new protection-free offerings.

Whatever Sony BMG formally announces in the coming weeks, it's pretty safe to hope we're finally moving into the last part of the buy-to-own DRM era. Music rental services offered by companies such as Napster will never ditch DRM, as it's absolutely crucial to their business models. But it could well be that 2008 will be the year of DRM-free, download-to-keep music downloads from all major labels. -Nate Lanxon