For all the haters of digital rights management, Apple scored a victory on your behalf by announcing an agreement with EMI Music to sell the record company's songs free of DRM.There's no doubt about it. The move is a major win. DRM has been used, most notably by Apple itself, to control how music content is accessed, recorded, and played on personal computers. DRM is technology mandated by the recording studios in part to prevent widespread illegal sharing of music. Anyone who purchases songs controlled by Apple's DRM (FairPlay) has been restricted to playing those songs on five registered computers as well as restricted to burning them a limited number of times.
Well, songs that are owned by EMI Music will now be offered without DRM for 30 cents more per song ($1.29), and at a higher bit rate (256 Kbps). The new rate is double the quality offered over Apple's regular songs, which are sold for 99 cents at 128 Kbps. According to Apple, the new bit rate is indistinguishable from the source CD, and the extra 30 cents goes to providing the better version that's DRM free. It will continue to sell EMI's Music at the lower bit rate, and with DRM, for 99 cents. Full albums will only be available at the higher price and quality points.
The timing of the news is good for Apple, which is due to release its iPhone in just over two months. By providing customers with DRM-free music (i.e., music that can be played anywhere, on any device, without restrictions), it gives consumers more freedom to do with their music as they please. Apple seems to equal "easy to use." Making its digital downloads easier to use just might convince skeptics to start downloading more music.
It remains to be seen how the other major record labels react to Apple's agreement with EMI.