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Blows against the (DRM) empire

Today Apple officially started selling DRM-free tracks on its iTunes Music Store. Called "iTunes Plus," it's a separate section of the store with songs that cost more than regular iTunes tracks -- $1.29 versus 99¢ -- but have no built-in restrictions on where you can play them or how many copies you can make. Better still these songs are encoded at twice the "bit rate" of regular iTunes fare (256 kbps versus 128 kbps), which means less compression of the files, which translate to higher quality.

The availability of music without the much-maligned and detested DRM (digital rights management) is Apple CEO Steve Jobs following through on his "Thoughts on Music" statement he issued in February calling for the elimination of DRM from music sold online. Though some scoffed at the time, Jobs soon convinced EMI to make its catalog available on iTunes without DRM. As of now the iTunes Plus store includes only EMI artists, though there are plenty of heavyweights among them such as Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, John Coltrane, Pink Floyd, Coldplay and Paul McCartney.

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The arrival of DRM-free music at iTunes signals doom for DRM. The technically savvy folk most likely to buy music online have savaged the concept of DRM for years on Web forms and will welcome the opportunity to purchase music without it. When DRM-free music proves popular, it will put pressure on the other major labels to follow suit. Online retailer Amazon.com added to the anti-DRM momentum in May when it announced that it was planning a totally DRM-free online music store for later this year. While EMI again was the only major label on board, Amazon said it had over 12,000 independent labels signed up.

When all the labels eventually cave in and all online retailers are selling music without DRM, those same observers who dismissed Jobs' "Thoughts on Music" in February will be heaping praise on the visionary Jobs for inspiring DRM's demise (at least for music –video is a whole 'nother story).

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