Music without limits

The recent news lead me to talk again about digital music and its cohabitation (or lack of) with network technology. As a matter of fact, we learn this week that our new French President is in favor of a strong action against pirated music and downloads. This is not very new, indeed, but the confirmation came from Nicolas Sarkozy quite early after his election. Nearly simultaneously (I see nothing more than a coincidence), Amazon just announced that they would start a new service of online digital music sales that would do completely without copy-protection system (DRM or Digital Rights Management) and would go 100% MP3-only. This is supported by EMI that decided to provide tens of thousands of music titles out of its international catalog.

I admit easily that I am not surprised to see a politician posturing as is expected from his image and adopt an attitude that is based on perceptions but ignoring technical and commercial realities. Nicolas Sarkozy is playing his part in the show as a right wing leader decided to fight all kinds of illegal activities. Nobody should be surprised here. But I contend that this is already an echo from the past and he is missing the light of the future.

Exactly on the opposite, Amazon recognized the commercial reality: Customers do not want those technical anti-copy measures. They go against the legal user (the illegal one does not even see this in the illegal but free MP3 files, of course); They do not stop industrial copy and intense distribution on the P2P networks for example, but they stop the buyer from playing the music title on a player that is nto pre-aprpoved or on the PC of the son’s bedroom, or on the CD-player of Mom’s car, etc.

Amazon, understanding this reality -and certainly also aware that online stores without DRM have better sales/user figures than the others- decided to go and fight directly the current leader of eMusic, Apple iTunes.

Wish them luck! If there will always be poor teenagers ready to sacrifice quality, ease of use, ease of purchase, elegance of the package, etc. (didn’t we copy LPs on dirt cheap tapes when we were young?), a good product will always be a hit.

And if some people insist on telling that the competition of a free product (illegal downloads) can only kill paying products (online music stores), I invite them to consider the tough/relentless competition between a product with a (very very high) price as bottled water and a product (nearly) free like tap water available in nearly all homes (at least in the developed countries). As far as I know, Perrier, Dasani, San Pellegrino, Vittel, Volvic et al. do not petition for a law prohibiting tap water. Those companies and brands offer a product with very notables advantages and make a nice profit out of it.