EMI's Rejection of DRM May Help Apple Overcome Its European Woes

The EMI Group announced Monday that, beginning in mid-May, recordings it sells on iTunes will be encoded at a higher bitrate (256 kbps AAC) and will no longer require the use of Apple’s FairPlay DRM. In addition, EMI will sell all its music videos on iTunes with no DRM.

"Our goal is to give consumers the best possible digital music experience," said EMI Group chief executive Eric Nicoli in a statement. "By providing DRM-free downloads, we aim to address the lack of interoperability which is frustrating for many music fans. We believe that offering consumers the opportunity to buy higher quality tracks and listen to them on the device or platform of their choice will boost sales of digital music."

EMI’s model allows U.S. consumers to buy non-DRM songs from the EMI stable for $1.29 per song. If a consumer already has purchased an EMI song with FairPlay DRM for the iTunes’ standard 99-cent price, the consumer will be allowed to download the higher-bitrate, non-DRM file for the difference in price, or $.30, once EMI and Apple make the new songs available. There is no word on whether Apple’s new "Complete My Album" program, which gives the consumer the option to apply pricing of previously purchased songs toward the $9.99 album purchase price, will be affected by the new pricing model.

According to music industry observer Fred Wilhelms, a Nashville entertainment lawyer who represents primarily musicians and songwriters, Jobs’ recent "open letter" was calculated to push forward the model EMI is now espousing.

"Jobs has been under great pressure from European regulators to license FairPlay to other player manufacturers," said Wilhems, "which led to his public musing about doing away with DRM entirely. EMI is the first to take him up on his challenge."

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