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Universal tests DRM-free future

Flogs MP3s without copy protection for trial period only

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Universal Music Group, the world's largest music label, has said it will temporarily allow the sale of thousands of its albums and tracks DRM-free.

For the next few months, the likes of Amy Winehouse, the Black Eyed Peas, and 50 Cent will see the MP3 format of their music sold without copy protection technology.

Universal said it will then be able to test the sale of songs unencumbered by digital rights management (DRM) for a trial period that will run from later this month until January 2008.

Earlier this year, rival EMI climbed into bed with Apple in an agreement to make its entire catalogue of music available as a DRM-free download option for customers through the computer firm's online music store iTunes.

Despite this, most major labels continue to insist on the use of DRM technology to curb internet piracy.

But reliance on the technology isn't without its sticking points.

DRM security has been proven to be less-than watertight and many consumers resent the copy restriction format.

No surprise then that Universal has decided to dip its toe into the test bed.

It said in a statement on Thursday that it will "analyse such factors as consumer demand, price sensitivity and piracy in regards to the availability of open MP3s".

However, unlike EMI, there are no plans for Universal (UMG) to sell the DRM-free MP3s via iTunes. Just last month the two firms were involved in a public spat, with UMG aruging that iTunes pricing should be more flexible.

There are several big retail names in the picture, however, with Google, Amazon and Wal-Mart all flogging Universal's DRM-free MP3s. ®

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