Hard News by Russell Brown


The song is not the same

Dullest Macworld keynote ever, they're calling it, but it did include one long-awaited announcement: the iTunes Store is going DRM-free, Apple having finally acceded to the music companies' desire for tiered pricing, and the other major labels, in return, following EMI's example and allowing Apple to sell untethered music at a decent bit-rate.

Some of them seem keener than others. I was prompted to upgrade my Universal Music purchases -- including Patti Smith's 12 and Amy Winehouse's Back in Black -- and that went seamlessly enough. Both albums are now in my collection as 256k non-DRM AAC files. Sony BMG's titles seem to be there too.

Warner Music isn't, and it appears it might be a couple of months before its tracks are available in the better format. In the interim you'd be a bit of a mug to buy a Warner release via iTunes, because you will be prompted to pay to upgrade in March or April.

Oh yeah. You have to pay to upgrade the music you've already bought. Not a lot, but still …

So is this the end of digital rights management on music? I think it's a bit more subtle than that: it's the end of DRM on purchased music, but subscriber services will continue to use technology to limit the use of music, because limited use of the music, for a few bucks a month, is what they're actually selling.

Meanwhile, it was very clear that Apple's final Macworld appearance wasn't any kind of last hurrah. The announcements -- iWorks is going cloud-computing and there's a new 17" Macbook Pro that you can't afford -- were thin, and there was no sign of the new NVIDIA-equipped Mac Mini, which will presumably get its own launch event when it suits Apple.

I hope Steve gets well soon.

PS: Ron Asheton of The Stooges has died, aged 60. More in the discussion for this post ...

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