UK Retailers Turn Away From DRM, Embrace New MP3 Logos

Seven U.K. online music retailers will use new logos to indicate which of their tracks are in the MP3 format and are free from copyright-restriction technology that makes it difficult to switch portable music players.

The logos, one of which has a check mark and says "MP3 100 percent compatible," will be used by 7digital.com, Digitalstores.co.uk, HMV.com, Play.com, Tescodigital.com, Tunetribe.com and Woolworthsdownload.co.uk.

The logos were created by the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), a trade group whose members control about 90 percent of the music, video game and DVD sales in the U.K., said spokesman Steve Redmond.

Retailers are increasingly trying to move away from DRM (digital rights management) technology, which places restrictions on what devices a song will play on and how it can be transferred or copied. MP3 is a standard compression format that reduces a song's file size.

Consumers and digital advocacy groups argue that DRM foists onerous rules on consumers who have legitimately purchased music. But record companies have often insisted on DRM as a condition for retailers to sell their artists' work.

Refusing to sell MP3s, however, is similar to not selling CDs because there are pirate CDs on the market, Redmond said.

"Retailers suffer from piracy as much as record companies do," Redmond said. "But when the consumer is crying out for an interoperable download format, it makes sense to give them what they want."

ERA is also working with hardware manufacturers to get the logo on music players and other devices, he said.

Retailers have been on the front lines of the incompatibility problem, as consumers have been known to bring back devices when they find out it won't work with their existing music collection, Redmond said.

The problem has been rooted in a fractured digital music landscape where online music stores sold songs with different DRM. Apple's iTunes store sold songs using its FairPlay DRM, which prohibits them from playing on non-Apple devices. Many other online stores used Microsoft's Windows Media DRM, which was incompatible with Apple devices.

However, Apple and other retailers such as Amazon.com are moving toward making more songs available without DRM as record companies have become more comfortable with the idea.

The transition to MP3s is an acknowledgement that making it easier for consumers to buy and use music will be better for the industry than attempting to stop piracy through legal suits and changes in law.

Moving to MP3s will help resolve frustration over compatibility issues, said a spokesman for the British Phonographic Industry. Piracy issues aside, the new logos should help increase consumer awareness of legal places to buy digital music, he said.

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