BREAKING NEWS: This afternoon, Apple officially confirmed the DRM-free iTunes deal with EMI - see the updated story here
EMI is to announce that it will sell “significant amounts of its catalogue without anticopying software”, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal this morning.
Ever since invitations went out to the event, scheduled for 1pm GMT at EMI's London headquarters, speculation in the media and online has centered around two possibilities: the Beatles catalogue coming to the iTunes Music Store, or EMI ditching DRM (digital rights management). The latter is fast becoming the favourite.
DRM is applied to many downloads to prevent illegal copying or sharing of the content but it also prevents legal copying and can tie users into a certain product or technology. For example, Apple's iPod won't play DRM-protected songs purchased from anything but the iTunes Music Store, while owners of Creative Technology's devices aren't able to use the iTunes store because those downloads are incompatible.
Jobs called for an end to the use of DRM on music files in a blog-like posting on the Apple home page in February. In it he argued that consumers would benefit because any player would be able to play music from any online music store and not be restricted as it is currently.
"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat," he wrote.
Reaction from the big four music labels was mixed with perhaps the strongest response coming from Warner Music chief executive Edgar Bronfman, who said the idea of DRM-free music or movies was "without logic or merit”.
EMI, on the other hand, appeared the most receptive to Jobs' call. The company had already experimented with offering DRM-free music a couple of months earlier when it offered MP3 files by Norah Jones and Relient K through Yahoo's music store.
A switch to DRM-free music will certainly be good news for consumers, said Bryan Wang, an analyst with InStat in Singapore. Speaking this morning ahead of the announcement, he said that consumers don't necessarily understand DRM and just want to be able to play purchased music on all their devices.
Taking restrictions off sharing music won't necessarily mean a big jump in piracy either, he said. While music sharing exists, it falls off as consumers enter adulthood and begin working, so that sharing of content among people over about 20 years of age is not that common, even for illegally downloaded music that has no DRM.
"We don't expect the illegal transfer of music will be that common," he said.
EMI's artists include some of the biggest names in music both past and present: The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Janet Jackson, Robbie Williams, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, The Rolling Stones, Al Green, Moby and Queen.