In Apple’s DRM-free EMI music deal, the big loser may be Microsoft

Avril Lavigne“While Apple scored a public relations coup by offering EMI’s DRM-free tracks through iTunes, the company has also struck a major blow against Microsoft in a less obvious arena: music encoding standards,” Eliot Van Buskirk writes for Wired.

“In an early morning press release, EMI announced the immediate availability of its ‘digital repertoire’ in high-quality, DRM-free AAC format. The new tracks will be encoded at 256 Kbps, EMI officials said, instead of the 128 Kbps that most iTunes tracks use,” Van Buskirk writes.

Van Buskirk writes, “A large part of the news has to do with consumers’ excitement over the “unprotected” part of the equation, since DRM restrictions are often seen as onerous, unfair and contrary to the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law… Still, the removal of DRM is just one piece of the puzzle; of equal significance to the online music industry is EMI’s choice of AAC encoding.”

“While AAC is an industry standard, Apple has been its primary champion,” Van Buskirk writes. “…Apple’s iPod has long supported the AAC format, which is used by the ITunes Store.”

“That’s about to change, now that Apple and EMI have doubled down on AAC as their unprotected format of choice… Other music stores could start adopting the AAC format as well… Luckily for consumers and manufacturers, the audio decoder chips found in most MP3 players are already able to decode the AAC format, even if they don’t support it out of the box. By installing a simple firmware upgrade, users of most music players can upgrade their gadgets to support the files,” Van Buskirk writes.

Van Buskirk writes, “Now, developers and manufacturers have a big incentive to go with AAC rather than WMA, which could cut WMA out of the larger digital music ecosystem. Apple and EMI’s embrace of AAC spells an unlikely defeat for Microsoft at the hands of a technology that consumers didn’t really use until Jobs got his hands on it.”

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Chris M” for the heads up.]
AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) is, most simply, the successor to MP3. AAC is MPEG-4 audio; MP3 on steroids. A large part of the confusion over AAC is its name. If it was called “MP4,” the average person would easily grasp that it’s the the successor to MP3. It’s all in the name and “AAC” is horribly named. Unfortunately, the name “AAC” has unnecessarily confused the consumer (and many writers, analysts, and pundits) for years. More about AAC here.

As for DRM, it will continue to exist, as it’s necessary to protect subscription music – otherwise all of the songs offered by such services would be “free.” Such services really haven’t really caught on because people prefer owning their music instead of having to pay recurring fees in order to listen to rented tunes.

When it comes to TV shows and movies, however, we seen a much stronger case for subscription services due to the way such content is consumed. TV shows and movies are generally watched once or twice, as opposed to songs which are listened to over and over, so TV show and movies subscription services make a lot more sense than music subscription services.

Apple’s embrace of AAC is not an “unlikely defeat” for WMA, as WMA has been defeated by AAC, the defacto standard for legal online music sales, for years. Microsoft has been the big loser in this market for quite some time.

Related articles:
Apple: Higher quality 256 kbps AAC DRM-free music on iTunes Store coming in May – April 02, 2007
The de facto standard for legal digital online music files: Apple’s protected MPEG-4 Audio (.m4p) – December 15, 2004


  1. “”Ugh! Get that trash Avril off th web page! Useless!”

    Yeah, it looks like she’s taking a dump or sumthin’..

    She probably has crumbs in her knickers.”

    And yellow stains, probably. So her knickers stink as much as her music…?

  2. Avril is hot, rocks and has a great ass.

    Anyways, AAC isn’t that poorly named. Can’t use MP4 as the licensing for MP3 is now up in the air with Apple named in a major lawsuit. That lawsuit could be in the billions of dollars if the decision against MS stands.

  3. Also, at the time of AAC’s naming, (probably back before any legal music site existed — I’m not going to bother looking up when PressPlay started or whatever), the original peer-to-peer Napster was scaring the major labels to death, and they didn’t know anything about encoding technology at the time other than “MP3 is bad for us.” I’ve always suspected that trying to sell them on the nascent idea of the iTunes Music Store would have been severely complicated if Apple would have kept talking about “MP4.” Like, that’s one even worse, isn’t it…?

  4. @danno bonano: you can’t trademark an acronym. Be it MP3, MP4, or AAC. That dispute is about patents that underlie the MP3 format and whether Fraunhaufer had the right to license them on behalf of Lucent.

  5. I can not emphasize enough how much I don’t care about this. DRM-free music is just one more incentive for people to steal music ala Napster. Kids today, and many adults, don’t care about what’s right, just what’s easy. Apple saying they have to “trust” their customers is disingenuous. Customers can’t trust themselves. This whole thing is about money and greed. It’s that simple.

  6. There has been speculation elsewhere that the DRM free files from EMI will still have metadata. So it is possible that the file you download from the iTunes store will have your account number encoded. If it’s found in the wilds of a download site, it could be tracked back to you.

    So while you are free to copy it, it contains a traceable “serial number”.

    Of course, if that is the case, sooner or later someone will devise a way to remove the serial number. Just tlike they do on stolen cars, etc.

    Or as my dad always said, “Locks are for keeping honest people honest.”

  7. This is all seriously great and is bound to have a profound impact on the music business. However, the addition of 256Kbps “premium quality” tracks does slightly tarnish Apples previous claim that “AAC compressed audio at 128 Kbps (stereo) has been judged by expert listeners to be ‘indistinguishable’ from the original uncompressed audio source.” If this statement were really true, what benefit would listeners gain (besides the absence of DRM) by purchasing the 256 Kbps “premium” versions of their songs?

  8. alansky

    In May we can all find out. I’ll download a couple of songs (Money by Pink Floyd) and try them out. With my old ears I probably won’t be able to tell the difference. But ifI can, I’ll be changing all my EMI songs to 256.

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