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EMI may end digital copy protection

February 13, 2007

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EMI is considering whether to abandon copy protection for digital music, in a move that would set the British company dramatically apart from three principal rivals.

The British group behind Norah Jones and Robbie Williams has sounded out online music retailers about switching to the MP3 format, abandoning the proprietary digital rights management technology developed by Apple.

However, industry insiders believed that EMI was getting cold feet, because the plan could lead to a precipitate drop in its already flagging revenues. The decision would leave its entire catalogue without any protection in the digital era.

This week, Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, to the music industry, in which he suggested that the majors drop their demand for copy protection, to ensure that songs sold from iTunes can be copied on to any digital music player.

However, EMI’s thinking is at odds with its competitors, who believe that Apple should instead try to license its copy protection software to permit interoperability with other digital music players — a stance that Mr Jobs rejects, arguing that the security technology may leak.

Edgar Bronfman, Warner Music’s chief executive, hit out at Jobs on Thursday, saying that abandoning copy protection was “without logic or merit” in words that found private support at market leader Universal. They hope to maintain the pressure on Apple, at a time when the hardware company is coming under increasing pressure from European governments.

All the music majors have tried to release some MP3 downloads, with EMI releasing songs from Lily Allen and Norah Jones, which it said “went down well with fans”. However, it is not clear that many people opted to pay for the songs, and other music groups question whether there is a viable business at this stage.

It is not certain that Apple will be able to open up its Fair-play digital rights management technology, as there is speculation that the company does not have all the patent rights to the software. In 2004, Microsoft paid InterTrust, a digital rights management software company, $440 million (£255 million) to license its technology. It is possible that if Apple made clear what technology it was using, a similar issue would arise.

in: Times online

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