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EMI set to drag majors into DRM-free future

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EMI is close to removing rights management software from its digital music for good, in a move which would pile pressure on the rest of the recording industry to follow suit.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the London-based label took a strategy to digital music retailers in December, which included a demand for a multi-million dollar "risk insurance" fee. Predictably, many retailers told EMI to go forth and multiply.

The paper reports that EMI returned with new ideas late in January which, rather than asking to be paid for nothing, invited retailers to make advance payments on the music they wanted to sell. The shops' submissions were due back to the label yesterday, and EMI will decide whether to go ahead based on the total up front cash haul that dumping DRM would bring.

Understandably coy about the imminent decision, EMI refused to confirm the process, describing reports as "speculation".

That EMI will likely be the first major label to ditch DRM entirely is no great shock - it already announced it would no longer encumber its physical releases in January. It even trialled selling DRM-free MP3s of some of its top-selling artists back in summer 2006 through Yahoo! music. Those trials failed to bring the global music industry to its knees, so it would be more surprising if talks with other retailers weren't ongoing.

Happily for Steve Jobs though, his timing is impeccable; history will probably grant him much credit thanks to his media-baiting denouncement of DRM in an open letter earlier this week.

Warner, another of the four major record labels which together control around 80 per cent of the worldwide recorded music market, meanwhile told Jobs where he could stick his open letter. CEO Edgar Bronfman said the Apple supremo's ideas were "without logic and merit". ®

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