This seems oddly familiar, somehow…

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My prognostications on major labels giving up DRM haven’t been great thus far—damn you EMI, doing the smart thing only a few years too late—so perhaps you should take this with a grain of salt.

Still, Universal’s decision to run a six month test of DRM-free downloads (just check Techmeme or Technorati, I can’t decide which of the forty billion links to refer to) seems a little off to me. It feels a bit like the test plan might look like this:

  1. Undertake very short test of DRM-free online music distribution.
    1. Intentionally exclude the largest online music distributor, because we’re in a bit of a snit right now.
    2. Wait six months, then express disappointment with relatively small sales.
    3. Conclude that results indicate that only a small segment of consumers see DRM as a significantly motivating factor when purchasing music for download.
    4. Come up with bizarre and unwieldy “some music is sometimes available without DRM” scheme.
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

An oddly familiar plan, but I just can’t seem to remember where I’ve seen it before…

In any case, to cover my ass I’ll note that letting DRM die off as an approach to driving a small wedge into Apple’s de facto stranglehold on the music download business would seem to make a fair amount of sense.

The question is whether Big Content has gotten through enough of the stages of grief regarding their old business model to acknowledge that fact; after quite a few years stuck in denial and anger, they’re just now starting to move into bargaining. Tick tock, says the clock.