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Unlocking iTunes: EMI strips DRM

Rumors were swirling that there was about to be a new British invasion, that the Beatles were coming to iTunes.  Instead, at yesterdays much hyped Apple press conference in London new ground was broken in a different direction.  Apple announced that in partnership with label EMI, for the first time, there will be DRM-Free music at the iTunes store.

EMI Unlocks iTunes DRMAs part of a deal, the digital catalog of EMI music will be sold in two forms:

  • The standard DRM-laden 128kbps AAC file that’s defined iTunes will remain at .99 cents.
  • An alternate, higher sound quality (256kbps AAC) download free of any DRM restrictions will be sold at a premium price of $1.29/song

After initially selling through Apple, EMI plans to offer similar rights-free music (and video) through other outlets.  Retailers who participate will be able to choose several levels of quality (including options which may exceed the iTunes peak of 256kbsp). Retailers will also be able to choose between offering the music in MP3, AAC or WMA formats.  

The combined effort will increase the portability of music across different platforms and may influence the market opportunity for smaller player manufacturers.

The new partnerships follows a few months on the heels of Steve Jobs open letter challenging the benefits of DRM and calling for DRM-free sales of music.  (More information on the faulty logic of DRM and Jobs’ challenge can be found here, here, and here).

Until now, none of the major labels has more than dipped into the water of DRM-Free sales.  This move is a breakthrough and pioneering.  It is Apple’s hope that the choice for customers will prove popular.  The inference from the press conference was that as many as half of Apple’s music partners would jump in and offer similar terms by the end of 2007.   That timeline may be a little optimistic but it is likely that, at least in some form of pilot program, other members of the Big 4 of music labels may try going DRM-Free too.

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