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EMI and Apple say DRM is so yesterday

High quality downloads are go - 'cept for the Beatles

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Well, the Beatles hasn't joined the DRM-free Apple/EMI jamboree – at least not yet.

Instead, today's announcement signalled the beginning of the end for DRM with EMI climbing into bed with Apple to offer high quality music downloads that can be used on any digital-enabled player.

It's a strategy that will also help relationships with various parties in Europe who have bemoaned DRM - particularly Apple's stance - as violating consumer law.

EMI's CEO Eric Nicoli said the music label - which is the first of the big four record labels to enter the DRM-free market - will offer its entire catalogue as premium digital downloads worldwide from May via Apple's iTunes, at 99 pence or $1.29 per track.

Steve Jobs said: "We think our customers are going to love this." The new AAC encoded downloads will effectively double the sound quality from 128Kbps to 256Kbps.

Existing Apple customers will be able to upgrade their EMI music collection via iTunes at 20 pence or 30 cents per track.

But when pressed on whether or not the Beatles will now finally join the digital download party, Jobs said "I wanna know that too." Nicoli said that EMI is "working on it" but could offer no further comment on the Fab Four. Jobs was also silent on if and when the rest of the big four will follow EMI's lead.

Modern-day London super-group, the Good, the Bad and the Queen, rolled up to play two songs in EMI's canteen where the event was held.

Sunk into a gladiatorial arena-like part of the building, with EMI employees watching from above, everyone was surrounded from all sides as Jobs spoke of the "next big step forward" for the music industry.

On hearing the news for the first time, the Good, the Bad and the Queen's singer Damon Albarn said two words to Nicoli, "fucking brilliant". [It'd be interesting to speculate what exactly Albarn thought he was there to promote]

EMI carried out a number of consumer tests in January this year to find out what its customers wanted from digital downloads.

It said the findings were overwhelmingly in support of DRM-free, higher quality music downloads being made available, and that one in 10 customers were in favour of paying more to get their hands on better, easier-to-use tracks and albums for their digital players.

The word interoperability was bandied around a lot at the event alongside that "dirty" acronym DRM, but Jobs was at pains to point out that iTunes will continue to dish up tracks and albums that contain copy protection limits at 79 pence a track as before.

He said that Apple didn't want to take anything away from its customers and accepted that the new price structure would not suit everyone.

Jobs said that two and a half billion songs had been sold on iTunes to date – including EMI products – and he debunked claims that opening up to a DRM-free market could level the playing field and hit Apple sales.

He said that CDs contain DRM-free music, yet despite this, people still choose to "rip" the tracks for their iPods. He couldn’t see any reason why this will not continue with the new "premium" product.

Nicoli said that EMI wants to see sales grow and added "we hope all digital retailers will embrace this opportunity".®

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