Four out of four ain’t bad: Sony BMG to throw in towel on DRM

Catherine Holahan reports in that

In a move that would mark the end of a digital music era, Sony BMG Music Entertainment is finalizing plans to sell songs without the copyright protection software that has long restricted the use of music downloaded from the Internet, has learned. Sony BMG, a joint venture of Sony (SNE) and Bertelsmann, will make at least part of its collection available without so-called digital rights management, or DRM, software some time in the first quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Well, okay, it’s not quite abandoning DRM, but it’s a big step — and aligns Sony with Warner, EMI, and Vivendi, who all moved in this direction in 2007. The article’s got some good quotes by the usual suspects, including Edward Bronfam Jr. of Warner admitting that many people have said they could and should have done this long ago, and Rob Enderle highlighting how the labels attachment to DRM inadvertantly handed their power over to Apple.

Sony has been experimenting with DRM-free songs for about six months. The company began giving away DRM-free promotional downloads for recording artists that sell less than 100,000 units, and at least one artist gained mainstream exposure through the effort. “A lot of these tests have led people to believe that maybe this works,” says a Sony BMG executive who asked not to be identified.

No … ya think?????

As somebody who lobbied Microsoft for years to shift their DRM stance (I wrote a “BillG ThinkWeek paper” a few years ago called Why Microsoft should abandon consumer DRM) it’s great to see this shift — and it’s exciting to see companies like Amazon and eMusic take advantage of the opportunities, although of course Microsoft has so many natural advantages in this area that it’s not too late for them.

And as a consumer who doesn’t buy any DRM’ed music, all I can say is “yay”. No word yet on whether this means the RIAA will stop suing their customers, but it’s definite progress.

Update on January 11: Sony’s gotten more specific about their plans; David Kravetz has an update on Wired’s Threat level blog.