By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Music label EMI Group said yesterday that it would make thousands of songs widely available for sale in the restriction-free MP3 format this spring, giving music fans more control over how they buy and listen to song files purchased online.
The announcement, made in London with Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, signaled a new direction for an industry that has usually sought tighter control over digital song files as a means of fighting piracy.
Anti-piracy "digital rights management" software has usually been built into song files sold at most online music stores, such as iTunes. The software is supposed to prevent such songs from being loaded onto file-trading services, but critics have complained that DRM tools get in the way of fans trying to enjoy their music.
Jobs said the EMI decision is "the next big step forward in the digital-music revolution." He said he expects other music publishers to take similar actions and predicted that half of the 5 million songs in the iTunes library would be available in a DRM-free version by year's end.
EMI's music that had not already been licensed for sale online, such as music by the Beatles, is not included in the deal.
In the new format, EMI's songs would cost $1.29 at Apple's iTunes starting next month and are to have a better sound quality than songs now offered for 99 cents at the site, Apple said.
Apple iTunes customers who have already bought EMI songs would be able to upgrade those songs to DRM-free versions for 30 cents per song.
Apple said the DRM-free songs are to be available from iTunes in May, though EMI is already selling MP3 tracks on its Web site. One of the label's major new artists, the Good, the Bad and the Queen, began selling its new album in MP3 format on its own Web site yesterday.
Jobs had lobbied in the past for DRM-free music, even though some industry analysts think that such a movement is against Apple's best interests because it means consumers would be able to shop at online stores other than iTunes for music for their iPods.
In an open letter to music publishers that Jobs wrote in February, he portrayed DRM tools as an imperfect and inadequate solution for the music industry.
"If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players," he said. "This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies."