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April 2, 2007

EMI drops DRM for music catalog, Apple has first dibs

Posted by David Hunter at 9:50 AM ET.

As had been rumored in February, Big Four music publisher EMI announced plans to offer its entire music catalog online without copy protection:

EMI Group CEO Eric Nicoli today hosted a press conference at EMI’s headquarters in London where he announced that EMI Music is launching DRM-free superior quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire and that Apple’s iTunes Store will be the first online music store to sell EMI’s new downloads. Nicoli was joined by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

The hook appears to be the higher quality and at iTunes, a slightly higher price:

EMI Music today announced that it is launching new premium downloads for retail on a global basis, making all of its digital repertoire available at a much higher sound quality than existing downloads and free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.

The new higher quality DRM-free music will complement EMI’s existing range of standard DRM-protected downloads already available. From today, EMI’s retailers will be offered downloads of tracks and albums in the DRM-free audio format of their choice in a variety of bit rates up to CD quality. EMI is releasing the premium downloads in response to consumer demand for high fidelity digital music for use on home music systems, mobile phones and digital music players. EMI’s new DRM-free products will enable full interoperability of digital music across all devices and platforms.

Apple’s iTunes Store (www.itunes.com) is the first online music store to receive EMI’s new premium downloads. Apple has announced that iTunes will make individual AAC format tracks available from EMI artists at twice the sound quality of existing downloads, with their DRM removed, at a price of $1.29/€1.29/£0.99. iTunes will continue to offer consumers the ability to pay $0.99/€0.99/£0.79 for standard sound quality tracks with DRM still applied. Complete albums from EMI Music artists purchased on the iTunes Store will automatically be sold at the higher sound quality and DRM-free, with no change in the price. Consumers who have already purchased standard tracks or albums with DRM will be able to upgrade their digital music for $0.30/€0.30/£0.20 per track. All EMI music videos will also be available on the iTunes Store DRM-free with no change in price.

EMI is introducing a new wholesale price for premium single track downloads, while maintaining the existing wholesale price for complete albums. EMI expects that consumers will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free downloads from a variety of digital music stores within the coming weeks, with each retailer choosing whether to sell downloads in AAC, WMA, MP3 or other unprotected formats of their choice.

Since most music on iPods doesn’t come from iTunes anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see whether the higher quality than MP3 rips of CDs coupled with lack of DRM results in more sales, but I am doubtful that it will be significant although it has to reduce the attractiveness of CDs. The biggest effect in the short term will be the positive PR for EMI and Apple and the pressure on the other players to get on board. C’mon Microsoft, don’t be shy! EMI would love to have you sign up and we won’t mention your prior affection for DRM.



Filed under Apple, Coopetition, DRM, Digital Media, EMI, Microsoft, Technologies

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