Steal This Album

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Photo: iStockphoto.com

If the current Google-versus-Viacom clash of the titans didn't already convince you that the very notion of copyright is sinking, here's another leak it sprung. Egged on by Apple chief Steve Jobs, EMI has become the first major label to chuck copy protection in its digital dealings. The music company — which controls music by Pink Floyd and Coldplay (and the Beatles, still conspicuously absent from iTunes) — will sell its wares on Jobs's virtual record store as straight-up MP3s, without the annoying add-ons that make the files playable on a limited number of devices. In the short run, this will create an unholy mess of mixed-format libraries. In the long run, it's a victory for the progressive Googlethink encapsulated by Clive Thompson in this week's magazine: "If everything is promiscuously available digitally, and easily findable, this will be a cosmic win-win for everyone."

But there's a wrinkle. The new, higher-quality, unprotected tracks are going to be priced at $1.29, rather than the usual 99 cents (long agreed-upon as the psychological ceiling for the amount of money one will pay for a song). Convincing iTunes customers to shell out this much for, say, a Robbie Williams ballad will be an uphill battle — especially just as the protection lift eases free sharing. Or is EMI trying to tell us something? Jacking up the price of apples just as you make a big deal out of unlocking the orchard does make it awfully tempting just to take a few, doesn't it?

EMI Dropping Copy Limits on Online Music [NYT]
YouTube Versus Boob Tube [NYM]