Warner Music Group Joins Amazon's DRM-Free Download Store

On December 27, Amazon.com and Warner Music Group announced that WMG's entire 2.9 million-song catalog would be available on Amazon's DRM-free, à la carte MP3 store—the first time the entire Warner catalog has been available online and the first time it has been offered sans DRM.

In a famous reply to Steve Jobs' "Thoughts On Music", WMG CEO Edgar Bronfman said last February, "We will not abandon DRM nor services that are successfully implementing DRM for both content and consumers." The problem with that stance was that there was only one company that was successful with DRM-protected music files: Apple's iTunes Store, whose industry dominance frightened the labels as much as P2P file sharing did. When Apple refused to license its DRM technology to other companies, record labels began looking more favorably upon alternative distribution methods, including the nascent Amazon Downloads store, which eschewed DRM and embraced higher resolution (256kbps as opposed to the iTunes Store's typical 128kbps) files.

When Amazon Downloads debuted in September, it featured songs from independent labels, EMI, and Universal Music Group, but not WMG or Sony BMG. In early December, however, rumors began proliferating that Pepsi and Wal-Mart had joined the anti-DRM collective and were pressuring WMG and Sony BMG to relinquish it.

Sony BMG—the company that foisted the infamous rootkit debacle upon its paying customers without their knowledge—remains the sole major label DRM holdout. While the company, in Ars Technica columnist Nate Anderson's snarkily accurate turn of phrase, "has apparently never met a form of copy protection it doesn't like," most experts agree that it's just a matter of time until it joins the rest—our bet is well before Superbowl Sunday.

Amazon, meanwhile, is putting WMG's catalog up as rapidly as possible. Major artists—even ones who have historically not been available online, like the Eagles and Led Zeppelin—have already been added to the Amazon Downloads site, and the rest will be available shortly.

Amazon spokesperson Heather Huntoon told Stereophile, "Amazon is committed to bringing our customers the convenience of buying music in the DRM-free MP3 format. Every song on Amazon MP3 is encoded at 256kbps, which gives customers high audio sound quality at a reasonable file size."

A WMG spokesperson did not return our phone call—and, in general, other than issuing a press release,Warner has remained mum about the move, including whether or not it will be offering DRM-free files on Apple's rival iTunes Store.

Nota bene: While we're on the subject of DRM, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2008 will host a panel on January 7, 2008 at 10:30am in N234 of the Las Vegas Convention Center, called "The True Cost of DRM: What Can We Do Now?" It will be chaired by Content Agenda editor Paul Sweeting. Participants include Patricia Aufderheide, Ph.D., director, Center for Social Media, professor, School of Communication, American University; Russ Frackman, partner, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLC; Jonathan Lee, VP, business development, MediaDefender, Inc.; Ian Rogers, general manager, Yahoo! Music; and Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation.