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Universal Music chief Doug Morris is reportedly aiming to join forces with Sony BMG and Warner to topple the iTunes store.

OK, we've heard this war chant end in wails of disappointment before — its practically a blueprint for epic failure — but can Apple keep the barbarians at the gate forever?

It's no secret the labels are less than thrilled with Apple's vice on the online music industry. Universal, which allied itself with Jobs and company from the start of the iTunes vendor, has broken ties. Something might have to give.

According to a report in the online edition of BusinessWeek, unnamed music industry insiders say a secret label cabal is fixing to provide a free music service called Total Music.

Morris' plan would be to charge portable media player vendors (yes, vendors) a $5 monthly subscription fee per unit to carry the service. Customers would then be given "free" access to the music.

The trouble, obviously, is getting music player manufacturers to swallow that pill. Newsweek cites insiders who believe service would cost vendors about $90 over the life of the product, assuming customers upgrade every 18 months.

Morris reportedly has already enlisted Sony BMG Music Entertainment as a partner, and is in talks with Warner Music Group.

Ah, but what about DRM? Details are shady. On one hand, labels will already pocketing cash through the subscription fees. Universal has also been willing to dabble in DRM-free music lately. On the other, subscription services aren't known for being loose with DRM.

Still, free music eh? But it's ultimately not the consumers who'll be the hard sell.

The full article is here ®

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