The debate surrounding the effectiveness of digital rights management continues to simmer, with the major record labels playing a "will-they-or-won't-they" game on the possibility of selling digital music sans restrictions on a large scale.

A few things to consider:
- The outlook for recorded music sales this year has never been dimmer. Analyst Richard Greenfield of equity group Pali Research today (Feb. 5) lowered his forecast from an overall flat growth year to a decline of 3%, based on a decline of CD sales of 10% or more and a digital track sales growth rate of only 40%.
- Digital track sales are slowing. Also according to Greenfield, year-to-date digital sales has grown only 63% in so far this year compared to 131% at this point in 2006.
- Piracy remains rampant. While iTunes celebrates crossing the 1 billion download milestone since the birth of the service, P2P analyst firm BigChampagne estimates 15 billion tracks were downloaded from unauthorized file-sharing sites last year alone.

The main argument in favor of selling music without DRM is a push for interoperability. No DRM means any digital retailer can sell music that is compatible with the iPod. Lack of such compatibility to date has been the prime culprit for the slow progress experienced by iTunes' competitors.

But the digital executives at the major labels see this as a short term fix with long-term implications. Most notably, the growth of Internet bandwidth is increasing to the point where file traders are no longer sharing tracks or albums, but entire music collections in an instant. For instance, want the entire U2 discography? Just check out this site that uses BitTorrent technology deliver just that in a click of a button.

While 2007 is certainly a year of experimentation, that experimentation will likely go both ways -- where one label may begin selling deep-catalog tracks without DRM, another may take another shot at DRM-protecting CDs.