Good news: DRM is dead. Sony has finally relented and agreed to supply music in MP3 format to be used on Amazon's new download service, joining the other major labels who have already signed up.
It's a remarkable turnaround for the music industry in general and Sony in particular. A year ago, all the major labels insisted on copy protection mechanisms in their music, confusing and irritating music buyers who found that Napster tracks wouldn't work on their iPods and iTunes tracks wouldn't work on their Walkmans, etc.
DRM dampened demand for downloads but did nothing to prevent piracy - after all, the vast majority of music was sold on unprotected CD, neatly packaged and ready to be ripped and shared with the world.
Digital Rights Management did have one beneficiary, however - Apple already had a wildly successful hardware platform in the shape of the iPod; by selling music in a copy-protected format that was only compatible with its player, and refusing to share the format with rival download services, it kept iPodders locked into the iTunes world. The only alternative was DRM-free sites like Emusic, which featured no major label music.
So it was something of a shock when Apple boss Steve Jobs called for the end of DRM less than a year ago. Perhaps he felt pressured by European Union investigations; maybe he saw the download market simply wouldn't grow fast enough with protectionism in place; or maybe he just wanted to liberate rock and roll. Jobs's call worked; within months EMI ditched DRM and Apple created a new zone called iTunes Plus, selling DRM-free music. As usual, early adopters were penalised for their support, forced to pay an extra 20p for DRM-free tracks for a few months before prices were equalised.
It's likely that more iTunes Plus music will be announced in Steve Jobs's Macworld keynote tomorrow. But it's also likely that some of the majors - wary of Apple's 70% market share in downloads - will cling to their old DRM'd iTunes deals in the hope of promoting competitor download services like Amazon and 7digital. But not for long - iTunes may be worryingly powerful, but it
But not for long. The end of DRM is brilliant news for consumers and will help encourage more people to buy their music online