Apple's Music Store: DRM-Free and Higher Quality

By January 09, 2009

At Macworld Tuesday, Apple announced that it will be upgrading its iTunes store music catalog to be available without the digital rights management that currently comes with all standard iTunes purchases. Since the iTunes store launched six years ago, the DRM-files restricted customers to playing their purchased music on a limited number of personal computers and Apple personal music-playing devices. Label support will broaden from EMI and some smaller independent labels to Sony BMG, Warner Music and Universal, upgrading eight of the ten million tracks currently available. The iTunes store will offer tiered-pricing, with charges at 69 cents (the majority of material), 99 cents and $1.29 (newer material), according to Macworld . Upgrading an iTunes library to the new format will cost thirty cents per song, thirty percent of album cost or sixty cents for a music video. In addition, to upgrade at all means to upgrade all. In other words, customers cannot choose to only upgrade some songs, but have to do so all at once. The new files will be DRM-free, as well as twice the bit rate of the previous versions at 256-kbps.

The freedom of movement only applies to songs and music videos, not movies and TV shows. As the Macworld page explains, copyright still applies to the purchased material. After being shared, the music is playable wherever they are downloaded, but the files still bear the user ID of the original purchaser and can be traced.

Beyond what this development means for individual consumers, the music industry saw strong digital music sales in 2008, up 32 percent to 65.8 million units from fifty million units in 2007.  The DRM drop will likely not recoup the lost business, though, or Amazon's music store would have eroded iTunes' dominance in the digital music retail scene, but has not. A projected boost could come from allowing iPhones to download tracks directly over the 3G network with no additional cost, says eMarketer .

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