Get Ready for DRM-FREE 2007: Amazon, LimeWire, MySpace, eMusic, Yahoo Music

More rumors are surfacing around Amazon offering DRM-free MP3s to compete with Apple’s iTunes. Only this time the rumors include other MP3 download services and are coming from the mainstream press (does that make it more or less credible?). Looks like certain key executives have converted to the idea that digital downloads should be sold as unprotected MP3s.

The reasoning till now seems to have hinged on the idea that DRM is causing the digital marketplace to grow (huh?). But 2007 is projected to be a downer, or at best flat, in terms of revenue from digital downloads and mobile content. If *gasp* DRM can’t continue to grow the digital marketplace (yeah, right, like it was ever the reason in the first place), then more music executives may look at DRM as an enemy. Not that it was ever really an ally, but let’s let them pretend it was so that their flawed logic will make it go away.

The five companies to watch during the 2007 dethroning of DRM:

AMAZON

The company has reportedly wanted in on the music download scene for some time now but wants to enter on its own terms (i.e., DRM-free). Considering Amazon is the largest contender to Apple’s dominance in the DRM-full world, it may be the only one capable of disturbing the force. As much as we all love Apple, someone has to step up to the plate and show the world it is possible to do what Apple did, only DRM-free.

YAHOO MUSIC

Sony BMG and EMI Music Group have agreed to a test DRM-free marketplace with “promotional experiments,” which include offerings from Jessica Simpson and Norah Jones among others. Depending on how satisfactory these experiments are in the eyes of the executives, further DRM deaths could be an order.

EMUSIC

eMusic just passed the 100 million download mark and is the second largest digital music retailer after iTunes and is DRM-free, though the company is known exclusively for its indie offerings. So far eMusic claims no interest in major label albums but could be drawn into the game if competitors begin selling unrestricted MP3s.

LIMEWIRE

The idea is to begin charging its 40 million users $1 per download while sharing the proceeds and marketing info (demographics, etc.) with the music industry. But LimeWire wants to keep the DRM-free look. The company seems to be serious, as it hired a former EMI executive to convince industry execs.

MYSPACE

The company is working with SnoCap to enable musicians to sell downloads of their music directly from their profiles. Since MySpace insists on selling only unprotected MP3s, the music industry is ignoring it…for now. The idea is to focus on independent and unsigned artists willing to release DRM-free music. And if any success happens, this is more cannon fodder to help music industry executives take notice.

So far we’re only two days into 2007, but the year seems to be off to a good start on the music download front…