Execs sound off on DRM

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NEW YORK -- Now that Amazon.com has confirmed that it is developing an MP3 download store and has signed up EMI as its first major-label partner, questions will now begin to swirl about launch timing and specifics of the new service.

The online retail giant is keeping mum on what other labels have licensed content for the offering, when it exactly plans to introduce it and what it will look like beyond being a download store. Likewise, the company declined comment on whether it is prepared to launch the service sans the support of the other major labels, all of which have been publicly opposed to the notion of selling music in a digital format minus-digital rights management.

However, Amazon acknowledges that DRM issues have been a continual sticking point to its long-simmering digital music plans.

"It has been a huge issue," Bill Carr, executive vp digital media for Amazon said of the company's DRM-interoperability concerns. "Our approach from Day 1 has been, 'We want to launch a service, but we want it to be a great customer experience.' And with the challenges of interoperability and the challenges of being able to offer digital music that will play on most devices, we just didn't feel like we could offer a great customer experience."

Barney Wragg, global head of digital for EMI, said the fact that interoperability has been keeping players like Amazon out of the market validates its new strategy unveiled at the beginning of April to sell music from its catalog DRM-free.

"To see someone like Amazon to do this in this way, I do think it is an important signal," Wragg said of the retailer's insistence on selling in MP3. "This deal shows our vision is aligned with the visions of some very major, very significant retailers with a long track record of providing the right proposition to the consumer."

While the other major labels continue to voice concerns about the potential piracy implications of selling digital music in an unprotected format, Wragg said EMI sees no distinction between its approach to selling downloads in an unprotected format and selling CDs minus copy protection -- a strategy the entire industry has been pursuing for the past 25 years.

Said Carr, "We're confident that what we are doing is going to help enable more digital music sales, not less."
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