Monday, July 02, 2007

UMG tries to bite Apple

I'm a big proponent of free (libre) software, and by extension of DRM-free media. If you want to take my money for an album or a movie (or office software), give it to me free first.

As a result, I'm not a big fan of iTunes. The EMI deal in April was a step in the right direction - better-quality songs without spyware for just a little more than regular songs. Still, the company's draconian approach to DRM in general (and the monopolistic iTunes/iPod tie-in bullshit that ties you to one player and one software app) irritates me.

Still, there's no question at all that iTunes was a step in the right direction. If the music labels had hammered out a deal with Napster back in the day, we'd not have to put up with all these crazy "CD sales are declining oh noes!" press releases from record labels. Labels who market their MAFIAA lawsuits as making sure the artists get their dues, all the while trying to reduce the amount of royalties they have to pay to those same artists.

Anyway, a legal download option has helped. For a start, it spread the truth about peer-to-peer filesharing's illegality. I'm rather astounded that some people still don't realise it's against the law (regardless of the moral standpoint).

But now, despite the fact that Apple's iTunes is the only really viable, legal music download vendor, Vivendi's Universal Music Group - the largest record label in the world, which includes Polygram, A&M, Geffen, Motown, Island, and Verve - has decided it doesn't like Apple's business and is pulling out of the iTunes store.

I think Cory Doctorow has a pretty good take on the whole thing:
But there's no denying that the iTunes Store is the only successful digital music seller that the majors have tried. They cry piracy all day long, and now Universal wants to shut down the only legit alternative?

It's clear that Universal wants leverage against Steve Jobs so that they can set their own prices, but brinkmanship won't win it for them. Universal already faces an increasingly tough time showing up in Congress and begging for more opportunities to strip everyday Americans of their life's savings (20,000 record industry lawsuits and counting). Going back to DC after shutting down the only successful online Universal retailer will be a fool's errand. "Help us protect our copyrights by suing people who take them without paying, even though we shut down the only store that anyone liked using."
This, of course, is the same Universal Music Group that wanted to sue MySpace and YouTube, and insists that everyone with an iPod is a thief.

Pulling out of the world's most recognised download store like this is especially insane when you consider that CD revenues are dropping off in a bad way - up to 40% in some markets. The former managing director of Island Records, Tim Clark, has described the CD business model as "fucked ... Physical revenues are going down like nobody's business and it's cataclysmic" - and this was in public, on record. He's got some pretty harsh words for the industry in general, which makes worthwhile reading.

There's more on the Universal story at The Register, with a slightly more reserved interpretation.

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