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Amazon to Sell DRM-Free Music

Amazon this morning announced plans to launch an online music store filled with mp3 tracks that are free of anti-piracy software. The store won't launch until later this year and, as of now, it looks as if only one of the big record labels - EMI - will make its tracks available.

It sounds like the digital music industry is starting to see a shakeup. This protective software - called Digital Rights Management, or DRM - has been controversial for some time because it restricts the playback of downloaded tracks to specific players.

Music purchased on Apple's iTunes, for example, would play on an iPod but no other player. Likewise, music purchased from other online music stores would play on some players - but probably not the iPod. The only format that's guaranteed to play on all music players is DRM-free mp3 tracks.

Apple has been under fire for some time, especially overseas, because of the marriage between iTunes and the iPod. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs put the controversy under the spotlight back in February when he posted an open letter on the Apple Web site, calling for record labels to allow online music stores - such as iTunes - to sell digital music tracks without DRM restrictions.

Some analysts said the idea had merit. It was consumers, they said, who were losing freedom of choice because of the restrictions. And others argued that DRM (and a flurry of lawsuits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America) has done little to curb music piracy.

Then came the news in April that music label EMI would make thousands of songs widely available for sale in the restriction-free MP3 format. The announcement was made hand-in-hand with Apple, which started selling DRM-free tracks on iTunes for $1.29. Those willing to live with the DRM restriction could continue to buy those tracks for 99 cents.

Now comes Amazon, which says it will make "millions of songs in the DRM-free MP3 format from more than 12,000 record labels" and notes that "EMI Music's digital catalog is the latest addition to the store."

The Post's Tech columnist Rob Pegoraro is looking into the details of the new Amazon store, as well as some more information about these 12,000 labels, for his Fast Forward column tomorrow.

By Sam Diaz  |  May 16, 2007; 12:34 PM ET  | Category:  Sam Diaz
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Despite the convenience of downloading from itunes and similar on-line merchants, theseldom talked about truth is that it is in the consumer's interest to still buy CDs. One, you can upload these songs and not have to worry about piracy restrictions that make it difficult to change players or use that music in other software programs. Two, you have a back-up. And, if you aren't backing up your digital music right now. Start ASAP. This will cost you a little more in time and money, but it is worth the expense.

Posted by: Derek | May 16, 2007 2:21 PM

The problems with Itunes music compatability is not Apple but the music industry... And why should aple have to reveal the info on thier DRM. Microsoft does it with video etc. And anyway how hard is it to make a back up copy of the cd you purchased from itunes and then reimport it as mp3s...
Or better yet buy a POD and join the darkside... you'll be happier

Posted by: Scott | May 16, 2007 4:22 PM

MP3 is not the only DRM-free format as asserted in this column. Standard wav files (PCM) are open and compatible with a wide range of existing tools and devices. This is the format in which music is stored on CDs. MP3 format was introduced because the files are smaller and easier to store and transfer, but that is because they are compressed and do not sound as good. It is like owning a snapshot of a painting instead of the painting itself. Many of us will never buy music from the web as long as it is restricted to such outdated formats.

Posted by: chase | May 16, 2007 5:51 PM

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