Sony BMG to drop Custer stance on DRM

And then there were none

Sony BMG, the last major record label that won't sell you music without DRM kneecapping will reverse its stance in February, according to a report today.

Corporate froth mag BusinessWeek cites a source familiar with the matter as saying it'll get involved in a major DRM free music tie-in with Amazon and the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for February 3.

Sony BMG has been toying with joining Warner, Universal and EMI in the post-DRM digital music scene for six months by selling selected unencumbered tracks by niche artists. "A lot of these tests have led people to believe that maybe this works," one anonymous exec told BusinessWeek.

Sony BMG marked itself out for special ire from DRM detractors, and regulators, when one particularly ham-fisted anti-piracy software effort installed a rootkit on music fans' computers. The episode marked the beginning of the end for defenders of the DRM faith.

The firm's impending conversion sets the scene for the next big battle in digital music distribution: Apple versus the major labels. Distracted by the tedious DRM wars, over several years the record industry has allowed Steve Jobs to accumulate massive power to set prices and cut promotional deals.

It seems the big(ger) beasts of music have finally stirred. Warner and Universal have signed DRM-free distribution agreements with Amazon, but not yet iTunes.

The question for the majors now is whether they've left it too late to release Apple's stranglehold on what should have been their market all along. ®

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