It was all the talk of the music industry conference in France, MIDEM and it’s been heating up as an issue for about 12-18 months but the imposition of DRM by the major music labels/owners has been blown wide open with an open letter from iTunes supremo Steve Jobs.

Jobs basically lays the blame for DRM at the labels’ door, stating that it was a condition of the iTunes Store launch that Apple provide DRM, FairPlay in this case. Jobs goes on to point out the blindly obvious point that CDs ship with no form of DRM, so why the anomaly for digital music.

The labels have laid the blame for piracy at the door of digital while failing to mention the rampant physical piracy going on all around the world and singularly sticking its collective head in the sand when it comes to evolving its business model. No wonder, many labels fear for their very existence. Well, guess what if you don’t adapt then you’ll die.

For Jobs, with the iPod in such a strong position in the physical market and iTunes Store in such a strong position in the retail market, he can afford to open this can of worms. Digital habits are slow to change and with the vast majority of digital music users embedded in their iTunes ways, then opening the door for cross-service compatibility is slightly less of a risk.

All the digital music services still have some way to evolve themselves. Most stick to a rigid retail model, while integration of users’ opinions, rating and comments are few and far between. If we’re on the cusp of v 2.0 of digital music services (OK, maybe v 3.0 really), then Jobs may have pole position but it would be a new race.

Of course, at the back of my mind is the impending iPhone. My gut feel is that this product will change the mobile phone space the same way the iPod did the digital music space. And the mobile space is a whole lot bigger, much much bigger.

Labels are already poo-pooing Jobs but with EMI and many independents already embracing a DRM-free world, the momentum may finally be behind the DRM-music world. Which, in all honesty, will probably look a lot like the current one but be a hell of a lot fairer on the consumer, who is the loser at the moment (OK, artists aren’t exactly getting a fair shake of the stick from labels on digital music as well).

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