Music giant EMI this morning announced that it would be releasing its entire catalog without digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, the first of the four largest music companies to do so. In addition, EMI announced that Apple's iTunes would be the first online music service to sell these unrestricted files starting in May.
EMI's move is dramatic. Currently, almost all commercial digital content sold online is constrained by DRM technologies, many of which are quite onerous and difficult to work around. Under the new plan, EMI will continue to sell DRM-restricted content itself and via various online services. But for those customers that are interested in DRM-free offerings, EMI will offer a logical and desirable alternative.
EMI announced that Apple will be the first EMI partner to sell both the old DRM-restricted songs and the newer, DRM-free songs side-by-side. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Monday that the DRM-free versions of individual songs will offer twice the quality of the DRM-restricted versions, meaning that they will be encoded using the 256 Kbps AAC audio format, compared to 128 Kbps for the original versions. (In a bit of showmanship, Jobs claimed that the 128 Kbps files already offered "the best audio quality" offered by any mainstream digital music service, which is demonstrably untrue: All Windows Media-based online services already offer dramatically higher quality music files than does Apple.) The new songs will cost $1.29 in the US, compared to 99 cents for the restricted versions.