MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
There is good news today for people who buy their music online. The record company EMI announced that it will begin selling singles on the Apple music store, iTunes, without any Digital Rights Management. That means people who buy those songs from Apple will be able to play them on any device they want, not just Apple's iPod.
As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, analysts say this could be the beginning of a trend.
LAURA SYDELL: The announcement came from EMI headquarters in London, where the record company's chief executive Eric Nicoli was joined by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Mr. ERIC NICOLI (Chief Executive, EMI): This is a landmark event and is the beginning of a major shift that will take place this year, resulting in consumers being able to purchase music from any digital music store and play it on any digital music player.
SYDELL: The deal reached between EMI and Apple means fans of the record label's artists will have a DRM free option at the iTunes store. Not only will consumers be able to play the songs on any device, they will also be able to make as many copies as they'd like. Until this moment, all of the record companies have resisted getting rid of Digital Rights Management or DRM because they believe it protects them from online piracy. But EMI chief Nicoli says by improving the product, they're hoping to convince consumers not to steal music.
Mr. NICOLI: The best way to combat illegal traffic is to make legal content available at decent value and conveniently. And we take the view that we have to trust consumers. The fact that some will continue to disappoint us and choose to steal the music is inevitable.
SYDELL: Indeed, despite the fact that the music companies put all kinds of DRM on their digital music files, it doesn't seem to have deterred piracy. Estimates of the number of songs stolen monthly range from a conservative one billion to nearly three billion.
Steve Jobs made headlines earlier this year when he released a letter to the music industry suggesting they get rid of DRM because it wasn't doing anything to stop piracy. Some analysts see today's announcement as the first thaw in the icy resistance that the music industry has showed to getting rid of copy protection. Eric Garland, CEO of Big Champagne, which tracks the distribution of online entertainment, isn't surprised EMI is the first.
Mr. ERIC GARLAND (CEO, Big Champagne): Because they are, of course, the smallest and most vulnerable of the major recording companies. They are not in great shape financially. They need a big win. So as we've long predicted, we think this is the beginning of something.
SYDELL: Perhaps there are some strings attached to the songs without DRM. They will cost more, $1.29 apiece versus 99 cents for the copy-protected singles and albums. However, consumers will get something more: Better audio quality. But will they sound so much better that consumers will be willing to pay an extra 30 cents? Garland's not so sure.
Mr. GARLAND: I think the distinction may be lost on the overwhelming majority of the customers who say this music sounds great and why would I pay 30 cents more if I can hear 30 cents worth of difference?
SYDELL: Nonetheless, Garland still thinks other companies will follow EMI's lead and quickly. Other analysts like James McQuivey of Forrester Research think EMI's announcement might actually slow down changes.
Mr. JAMES McQUIVEY (Analyst, Forrester Research): And ironically, seeing EMI do it means they can actually sit back and watch rather than have to move, because six months from now they will be proof as to whether this is the right idea or not.
SYDELL: But it will mean a little more convenience for a little extra money for fans and such artists as Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones, Blur, the Beastie Boys and many more.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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