iTunes sells music that can be copied

Apple debuts more expensive version that's devoid of software protections

Plugged In

May 31, 2007|By Cox News Service

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Calling it a milestone in digital music, Apple Inc. for the first time sold songs yesterday that can be freely copied or played on any number of devices.

Apple's launch of a new version of its online music store, called iTunes Plus, marks the first time a major record label has removed digital rights management, or DRM, software protections on downloadable music.

Apple and EMI Group - whose artists include the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Norah Jones and Frank Sinatra - announced in April that they were working on dropping DRM while at the same time improving the quality of recordings.

Songs on iTunes Plus are encoded using twice as many digital bits as those on iTunes, offering a quality level that Apple claims is virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings.

The new freedom and quality come at a price.

Songs on iTunes Plus are $1.29, while the regular iTunes store will still sell 99-cent versions of DRM-protected songs. ITunes customers can upgrade their library of previously purchased EMI content for 30 cents a song and $3 for most albums.

Most record labels have resisted dropping DRM protections because they believe unauthorized copying of digital music cuts into their profits. But many industry analysts predict other record labels, under pressure from Apple, will likely follow EMI.

Apple's iTunes is by far the world's most popular online music store. If record labels want their songs there, to some extent they have to play by Apple's rules.

Apple chief executive Steven P. Jobs said yesterday that EMI's shift is just the beginning.

"We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year," Jobs said in a statement.

Jobs, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and other tech industry luminaries are appearing at a conference in this San Diego suburb to discuss trends in digital entertainment, devices and the state of the high-tech industry.

Microsoft unveiled yesterday a new type of computer it calls "Surface" at the "D: All Things Digital Conference" here.

The device is essentially a Microsoft Vista-based computer tucked inside a coffee table. Users can view digital photos, listen to music and access other files with the 30-inch touch-screen panel that forms the table top.

The Starwood hotel chain plans to publicly debut the computer in the lobby of a Sheraton hotel lobby in New York on June 9 and install them in its high-end hotels elsewhere in coming months.

Gates and Microsoft chief executive Steven A. Ballmer also were expected to discuss at the conference the current success of Zune, Microsoft's answer to Apple's iPod.

Microsoft recently said it is on track to sell its millionth Zune next month. The number is significant, but still just a fraction of the 100 million iPods Apple has sold.

Yesterday's DRM move by Apple and EMI could help Zune. That's because music downloaded from iTunes Plus also is supposed to work on other portable players, such as Zune, for the first time.

Apple also separately announced yesterday it was starting a new section on iTunes, called iTunesU, that features sports clips, video and audio from lectures, lab demonstrations and other events at universities.

Texas A&M University, the University of South Florida, Duke University and Stanford University are among the first schools to participate.

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