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Legal, major label DRM-free MP3s hit UK (at last)

Play.com gets the mainstream jump on Apple and Amazon

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Play.com, the Jersey-based entertainment retailer, has beaten Apple and Amazon to the punch today by opening the UK's first mainstream* legal digital rights management-free music download store with major label backing.

Amazon has yet to replicate its US digital store on this side of the Atlantic, and a spokesman for the firm refused to say if it ever intends to do so. Apple iTunes Plus in the UK offers DRM-free tracks, but only in the company's favoured AAC format.

So far, EMI is the only major label to sign up to Play.com's digital store. Wendy Snowdon, head of PlayDigital, said: "It is only a matter of time before the other labels embrace this." In the US, Amazon Digital has become the first to convince all four majors, in a collective two fingers to Apple, to drop DRM.

EMI tracks will be sold at 320Kbit/s on Play.com. Music from dozens of smaller independent outfits will be encoded at 192Kbit/s, although a spokesman said that all will be bumped to 320Kbit/s. iTunes Plus and Amazon Digital encode at 256Kbit/s.

Play.com's new store is also priced aggressively. Top-selling tracks will cost 65p, compared to 79p at iTunes. Amazon charges 99 cents per track in the US, although transatlantic currency conversion rates rarely bear any relation to the value of the dollar against the pound.

Play.com said the average price per track will be 70 pence. Album bundles are charged at £6.99.

I want my MP3s

Earlier this week, Reg reader Stuart Henderson wrote in to say: "Every other week I seem to read about companies striking deals with the big labels to to sell non-DRM'ed MP3s to the masses. Which is odd, because I can't find any."

"My wallet is open, my ears pricked up and I'm itching to jump on the soulless-train that is mainstream popular music. Will anyone take my money?" he asked.

Well, Stu, your prayers have been at least partly answered by Play.com.

Amazon's silence on entering the UK market is an entirely pointless attempt at managing its PR. It would be insane if it didn't set up its download stall here, and it has already confirmed its broad international ambitions for the site. The launch timing is merely a question of how nimble its digital licence negotiating skills have become.

There'll still be no way to download the Beatles catalogue DRM-free legally, of course. ®

Update</3>

*Edit: The UK-based digital music retail startup 7digital got in touch to say they've been offering EMI's catalogue DRM-free for a year. Other services offer specialist genres.

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