It’s official: EMI, Apple will sell DRM-free music

In what might look like a belated April Fools prank, EMI and Apple have announced that EMI’s entire music catalog will become available on the iTunes Store completely free of digital rights management protection. But this is no joke: the DRM-free tracks are due to appear on iTunes next month, and they will be marketed as higher-quality, “superior-sounding,” and most importantly interoperable alternatives to 99-cent, DRM-protected iTunes songs.

For a 30-cent premium, each track will be de-DRMified and encoded in 256Kbps AAC format, which should sound notably better than the 128Kbps AAC format standard on iTunes today. Users who already own DRM-protected EMI tracks will be able to upgrade to premium, non-DRM tracks for 30 cents a pop, too. And for those who don’t want to pay extra, Apple will continue to offer EMI’s catalog in the traditional 99-cent, 128Kbps, DRM-protected format.

EMI is one of the world’s “big four” recording labels, and its catalog includes songs from artists like Radiohead, Queen, Iron Maiden, Gorillaz, Daft Punk, and of course The Beatles. Today’s announcement seems likely to push the other three major labels—Warner, Sony BMG, and Universal—to eventually offer DRM-free music, as well. Apple CEO Steve Jobs certainly appears to think so: in Apple’s press release, he states, “We expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year.”

Update: According to an EMI executive quoted by the Associated Press, EMI’s music offering on iTunes still won’t include songs by The Beatles. Thanks to TR reader Snake for the heads-up.

Comments closed
    • lilrabbit129
    • 12 years ago

    Milking that beatles money for all its worth huh?

    • DragonFli
    • 12 years ago

    My argument against the use of iTMS was always the AACs’ being only 128k. Personally I have heard many AACs’ encoded at 256k (ripped from CDs) and they sound every bit as good as the CD originals…
    This Is A Step In The Right Direction…

    • quarantined
    • 12 years ago

    Wait a second here, you mean to tell me that all this time people have been paying 99 cents for a DRM’d 128kbps mp3? ROFLMFAO. That is just too funny.

      • Sanctusx2
      • 12 years ago

      It’s not an mp3, it’s AAC which is significantly better than mp3. An AAC at 128k is equivalent to an mp3 somewhere between 192 and 256.

      A 256k AAC would be indistinguishable from the real track to even most audiophiles.

        • quarantined
        • 12 years ago

        My bad. I’m really not up to speed with lossy audio compression these days. Still, that’s kind of sad that they were/are offering anything less than maximum quality for a lossy format. I suppose the argument is that by doing so, people can store more music at a minimal loss of quality.

          • Smurfer2
          • 12 years ago

          I wish they had been selling MP3s…. They can have DRM encodded into them and work with all major media players.

          I think the real thing is how many people can tell a physical difference. I normally can between a 128kbps and 192kbps MP3, but that’s about it. As I do use Itunes, I want to post something on the forums about recompressing lossy files…., but I digress…

    • blastdoor
    • 12 years ago

    I think it’s interesting that during the Q&A somebody asked Jobs about video, and he basically said that video is an entirely different ballgame. He argued the difference is that DVDs have never been DRM-free (unlike CDs).

    Somehow that is not a very satisfying answer, particularly since DVD DRM is pretty easy to circumvent, and there’s plenty of downloads of video off of the Internet.

    • Flying Fox
    • 12 years ago

    Did they mention anything about the Classical catalogue?

    • Mithent
    • 12 years ago

    Now we just need more labels to take it up too, and other stores than iTunes to start selling them. Apple’s generally smarmy attitude has made me determined not to buy anything they sell.

    This of course allows Apple to appear to be the good guys who never wanted DRM in the first place, but I do question that.. the iTunes music store isn’t primarily there to make money in of itself, but to add value to the high-margin iPod and lock users into the platform using FairPlay. Perhaps now they’ve succeeded in making the iPod synonymous with music they no longer need that leverage, and can instead switch tack to become the liberators of music from the evil labels, something they were quite happy with before. Unfortunately a lot of people have bought into the ‘Microsoft = evil, Apple = good’ view when they’re both just multi-billion-dollar multinational companies trying to make money.

      • Anomymous Gerbil
      • 12 years ago

      How dare companies become international and make money!

        • Kharnellius
        • 12 years ago

        The nerve. ugh.

      • ludi
      • 12 years ago

      Who said they were “happy” with it before? Apple was the underdog in the music industry, there was /[

        • SGWB
        • 12 years ago

        Apple got a pretty sweet deal the first time around when they were, as you say, the under dogs. I think they got those deals because the music industry didn’t think ITMS would work. Online distribution had never worked before, and at first, iTunes was a Mac-only medium. So the music execs saw ITMS as a very small risk. The music industry got blindsided by Apple, and now they are pissed that they get so little money from iTunes sales.

        I don’t really care where that extra 30 cents goes. An extra 3 tenths of a dollar for a higher quality track is a reasonable compromise, and I’m sure that all of that money doesn’t go to Apple. But, offering DRM-free music certainly is a deft way for Apple to sidestep anti-trust prosecution without tarnishing their public image.

        But what I want to know is: What happened to Apple’s argument that DRM-free music would be confusing? Did the world’s median IQ jump 10 points last week?

    • Corrado
    • 12 years ago

    Everyone seems to be upset that it costs more and thinks it costs more because of the removal of DRM. It costs more because its supposedly 2x the bitrate. That means more storage, redundant copies, and more bandwidth to send it to you. So it DOES cost Apple more money to sell you a larger file that has no DRM and also has a seperate copy at a lower bitrate WITH DRM, and thus uses more than 2x the storage space because of it.

      • crazybus
      • 12 years ago

      I find that argument very hard to swallow…..for one thing, Apple makes pennies on iTunes downloads, the majority going to the record labels. So who’s pockets do think the extra 30 cents are lining. As far as bandwidth and storage cost, well even 256kbps files aren’t huge. We’re not talking HD video here.

        • Corrado
        • 12 years ago

        Just because it isn’t huge doesn’t mean that over the course of umpteen thousand downloads that it isn’t significant. I’m just saying that people are ignoring that they ARE getting something for the 30 cents.

          • SPOOFE
          • 12 years ago

          I’ll be interested to see which versions are downloade more… the oh-so-cheaper DRM’d versions, or the /[

            • Corrado
            • 12 years ago

            Thats probably what the ‘experiment’ is for EMI. In 3 months they will go ‘LOOK! SEE! PEOPLE ARE ONLY BUYING DRM’D VERSIONS! PEOPLE REALLY DON’T CARE!’

    • HiggsBoson
    • 12 years ago

    Finally we have some idea of what kind of “premium” is expected for removal of DRM. This action also basically confirms that the whole issue of DRM is purely about money—charging the consumer for the exercise of their b[

      • Corrado
      • 12 years ago

      DRM-Free albums are 9.99 just like all the others. You only pay the premium on a single.

    • king_kilr
    • 12 years ago

    The best part IMO, is that they will be selling all the albums DRM free and with the upped bit rate and no extra charge, you only pay the premium on singles.

    • rythex
    • 12 years ago

    meh, who cares about the beatles.. ?

    • Shinare
    • 12 years ago

    Looks like the Beatles’ greed continues unabated.

    • moose17145
    • 12 years ago

    IF i had i iTunes i would pay the extra for the DRM free version, but it would be harder to swallow since you would only be getting it DRM free, but the fact they paired it with a quality increase is nice to see too, and makes it even more worth it IMO. Hopefully this is a trend that will catch on.

    • Snake
    • 12 years ago

    Actually, you may wish to re-write the story to note that all Beatles songs will /[http://www.wcbs880.com/topic/ap_news.php?story=AP/APTV/National/f/f/Britain-EMI-Apple_f_f_9—-<]§

    • Dposcorp
    • 12 years ago

    Wow.

    Lets watch the other labels and see if they grow the coconuts to take this kind of chance.

      • Inkedsphynx
      • 12 years ago

      Let’s hope they do, and let’s hope it’s a wildly successful venture that can help open the door for the retirement of all DRM.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This