Upwardly Mobile: Why mobile DRM must die

Think different

Think different

The brave new world of DRM-free music is in its infancy but it will surely have implications for mobile music. Jo Best imagines what the future might look like.

The sun has not long set on the announcement between Apple and EMI that saw the record company's catalogue emerge on iTunes DRM-free, yet the implications are still being dissected, with some pondering just how far the Mac maker has kick-started a trend to denude content of DRM - and whether it will affect mobile.

Apple, lest we forget, is soon to join the ranks of the handset manufacturers - with the looming launch of the iPhone - and is promising the DRM-free content it sells through iTunes can be downloaded to any device. As well as opening up said tunes to rival MP3 players, it has made the songs available to other phones too, presumably.

The upshot of which is, with a little bit of fiddly sideloading, consumers can now get the music they want without the digital rights management they don't and still get it cheaper than the mobile companies themselves offer. And it's reasonable to assume if EMI has gone DRM-free, others will follow suit - giving shoppers a wider choice of tunes for their mobiles than operators' narrow selection. Buying content from a DRM-free aggregator rather than a pro-DRM mobile operator might seem like a bit of a no-brainer.

So, fingers crossed, mobile music is spared the indignity of DRM. But what of video, games and the like? I have a sneaking suspicion they too will wriggle out of the restrictions - although admittedly not in the same way.

Since the Apple-EMI announcement, the naysayers have been shouting that it will mark the return of piracy. Mobile music has an added reason to fear such an outcome should it remove DRM - with Bluetooth, it's dangerously easy to pass on content to friends.

But the pass-it-on-as-soon-think-about-it nature of content distribution could actually prove to be a tool for the mobile industry to use to its advantage.

Speaking to Vodafone recently about the plans to launch mobile advertising, the operator said it had experimented with giving away games that included advertising for free, as well as offering them as pay content.

I'm taking a shot in the dark here but I suspect that free content will prove more popular than a more costly equivalent and operators will see themselves finding more and more of their content-based revenue coming from ad-sponsored material.

With free content it makes even more sense to disable DRM - that way, content can be passed between users with ease, meaning more eyeballs for the content and more eyeballs for the ads that pay for it.

DRM rarely benefits the user - Apple may have been the catalyst to help the mobile industry realise that.

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