Vodafone Music's DRM-free move makes Apple and Nokia look bad

Vodafone, which currently operates music download stores in over 20 countries, is to become the latest company to jump on the DRM-free bandwagon, announcing this week that it will soon be transitioning its music catalog away from the copy-protected WMA format to standard MP3s. Additionally, customers will be able to covert their existing Vodafone purchases to DRM-free versions at no extra charge, unlike Apple’s current iTunes arrangement where users wishing to ‘upgrade’ are effectively asked to pay twice.

That’s the good news as far as Vodafone is concerned. The bad: only three of the four major record labels are on board – Universal Music Group, Sony Music and EMI – with Warner, for now at least, refusing to join in the fun, and the whole DRM-free deal only applies to a la carte downloads not Vodafone’s MusicStation all-you-can eat subscription service.

Although DRM-free music downloads via the PC are just about the norm these days, until recently the majority of ‘over-the-air’ mobile offerings still employed some form of copy-protection technology. How times are changing. AmazonMP3 was recently chosen as the default music store on the T-Mobile G1, the first device running the Google-led Android mobile operating system, and the e-tailer has a similar arrangement with Palm for its upcoming Pre smartphone. Meanwhile, in January Apple’s iTunes Store completed its lengthy transition to a DRM-free format, including adding 3G ‘over-the-air’ music downloads to the iPhone sans DRM.

Nokia missing in action

As a side note: all of this DRM-free love is making Nokia look decidedly out of touch. Just yesterday, the handset maker announced that its music download store and ambitious ‘Comes With Music’ (CwM) all-you-can-eat subscription service is rapidly expanding to include more countries and support on three new music-focused phones, yet both the Nokia Music Store and CwM heavily rely on DRM. Although copy-protection technology is probably a necessary evil for CwM, at the insistence of the major record labels who, along with Nokia, are nervously moving into very new territory, for a la carte downloads it just doesn’t make sense. Until the Nokia Music Store drops DRM, I suspect more tech-savvy customers will continue to shop elsewhere, even if that means putting up with the inconvenience of ‘side-loading’ music to their phone via a PC.

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last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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