Customers of Apple Inc.’s iTunes store will soon be able to play downloaded songs by the Rolling Stones, Norah Jones and other top-selling artists free of the copying restrictions once imposed by their label.
EMI Group, the world’s fourth-largest record label, and Apple, the biggest seller of digital music and players, plan to announce a landmark deal today that would remove copying protections from songs, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. The decision is likely to pressure other major recording companies to follow suit.
The agreement covers nearly all of EMI’s catalog, which also includes the likes of Coldplay, Gorillaz and Janet Jackson.
There’s at least one notable exception: the Beatles. The surviving band members and their estates have yet to permit online sales of their songs.
You have to read to the end to get some key statistics (I, for example, own several iPods, but have never considered buying a song through iTunes because of the DRM):
The move could nonetheless be a boon for music lovers.
“There are probably some people who have been unwilling to buy music on iTunes because of concerns about iTunes and the rules involved,” said Josh Bernoff, a vice president at Forrester Research Inc. With EMI songs, he said, “they don’t have that concern.”
Forrester found that only 3% of U.S. online households buy anything from iTunes, and one-third of iTunes buyers make 80% of the purchases, he said.
“If you want to get the rest of the world involved, this might be what it takes,” Bernoff said.
Note that the NYTimes remains coy: Speculation Is in the Air Over EMI and Apple
Update: 8:10AM — listening now, we’re going to get to hear some bands, including a teaser for what is pending, citing a quote from one of the band members as “f***ing brilliant.” So, we first get to hear some classic EMI promotion.
8:15AM — well, the music is OK, but the singer is having a little trouble staying in tune….
8:16AM — song #2 starts; clearly we’re going to drag this out as long as possible
8:20AM – dead air, and then some prerecorded music
8:22AM – Applause and Nicoll is back and talking about a “new product” – “interoperability” – “premium digital downloads” – “DRM free” – “vastly improved sound quality.” “The demise of the album … a high interest in full albums.” a facility to upgrade previously purchased EMI products. “Entire catalog .. in both standard and premium versions” – “iTunes the first partner”
8:28AM Introducing Steve Jobs
Jobs: Next big step forward in the digital music revolution; DRM free music. The entire catalog will be available in May on iTunes. iTunes as a cost-effective distribution medium. Getting to the next level will require (1) interoperability and (2) audio quality (128kb AAC encoding not good enough for audiophiles, and storage prices falling). New versions of the songs and albums, alongside the conventional ones (new at 256kb AAC $1.29/song)
8:32 — iTunes customers will be able to upgrade their entire libraries at $0.30/song; new albums will be available at the same price as the conventional DRMed songs.
8:33 – EMI has taken the first bold step; Apple will offer the other recording companies the chance to do the same thing.
8:34 – *Smackdown* on those of you who doubted Apple’s sincerity — “tear down the walls”
8:35 – Q&A starts (I’m not going to track all of this)
8:35 – the inevitable Beatles question is raised; so far “we don’t know.”
8:39AM – (I love hearing Jobs repeatedly describe how easy it is to defeat the DRM on iTunes music. And I love how he points out that CDs are DRM-free already, with a slam on Sony, too)
8:41 – Nicoll – we need to “trust” our customers when it comes to filesharing, even though we are dropping the DRM lock. We do not condone illegal filesharing, but we need to trust our customers.
Later: Slate asks one question — Are iTunes’ Premium Downloads Worth It? Do compressed music files sound any different at 256 kbps?