With three of the big four music labels abandoning DRM, that leaves Sony as the big holdout. That’s right, the same company that brought you the Sony rootkit scandal is also the last of the major labels to repent and abandon their DRMed ways.
Hence you can imagine our delight when a reader alerted us to the fact that Sony tacitly recognizes the inconvenience caused by its DRM usage and even recommends that iPod users circumvent some of its own DRM. On the Sony Rewards site, we learn that we can cash in Sony Rewards points for music from artists like Avril Lavigne, The Fray, Clint Black, Kelly Clarkson, Elvis Presley and more. Then there’s this curious bit, which I quote in full:
Attention iPod users:
Our download service provides files in the WMA music format or the WMV video format, which is not supported by Apple Macintosh computers. To use your music with an iPod, simply follow the steps below:
1. Save each downloaded song to your PC
2. Burn a music CD (in CDA file format)
3. Import the music from the CD into iTunes
4. Update your iPod
The instructions are what one might call the caveman’s circumvention technique: burning CD-audio compliant CDs from DRMed source material and re-ripping them to get rid of DRM works, but it does cause a generational loss in audio quality.
The best way to get rid of DRM is to strip it, of course, but Sony won’t recommend that because it is illegal in the United States, and it might just make Microsoft (the DRM vendor in this instance) a little bit unhappy.
Will Sony wake up and realize that it is creating difficulties for itself by continuing to use DRM? We think it’s inevitable. Barring Universal finding something unsavory in its watermarking test, it’s a total numbers game: Sony won’t want to be the odd man out. That doesn’t mean we should expect an announcement soon. Sony is about as stubborn as they come.
Consider Sony Connect. The offering was nothing other than Sony’s attempt to ape Apple’s iTunes-iPod play, complete with lock-in and proprietary formats that don’t play on other devices. The service failed miserably, and the company shuttered Sony Connect this past summer. Sony is still reportedly hoping to pull of this kind of play in the video scene, however, with the PS3 and PSP.
BusinessWeek.com is reporting that Sony is close to throwing in the DRM towel. Sources close to the company tell BusinessWeek that part of its catalog will be made available without DRM during the first quarter of 2008. First up will be a promotion in partnership with Pepsi that will involve the distribution of 1 billion tracks via the Amazon Music Store, which sells non-DRMed music. This may indicate a long-awaited change of heart towards DRM on Sony’s part—and make it trivially simple for music fans to get Sony music on to any digital media player.