EMI Music Goes DRM-Free in a Deal with Apple

The giant record company EMI has promised to start selling its songs on Apple's iTunes site — without Digital Rights Management, or DRM. DRM is the electronic lock that the music and film industries put on their digital files to keep people from stealing.

The digital locks have been a major source of complaints from consumers. DRM protection means that songs purchased from the iTunes store could only play on iPods, and not any other device. Now it will be possible to play the songs on any player, whether it's a Zen, a Zune or an iPod.

The absence of DRM will also allow music fans to make as many copies of a downloaded song as they would like.

But there is a catch: The DRM-free songs will cost fans an extra 30 cents above the 99 cents to which they've become accustomed. But they will get more for their money. Not only will the tracks be DRM-free, they will also have better sound quality than the files that sell for 99 cents. Apple CEO Steve Jobs calls it a win-win situation: EMI gets a little more money, and consumers get more convenience and better quality.

The record companies have resisted getting rid of DRM because they want to keep people from stealing their music online. But there is little evidence that the tactic is working: The number of songs being stolen has hit somewhere between 1 and 3 billion a month.

Meanwhile, consumers haven't been happy with all the restrictions of DRM. But EMI CEO Eric Nicoli believes that by improving the product, he will persuade more music fans not to steal. At a press conference in London he said, "The best way to combat illegal traffic is to make legal content available at decent value, and conveniently."

Many analysts believe that other large record companies will soon follow EMI's lead. But they disagree over how soon it's going to happen.

Analyst James McQuivey, of Forrester Research, thinks EMI's move will allow the other music industry giants to sit back and watch. He says, "Six months from now, there will be proof as to whether this was the right idea or not."

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