7digital: All Major Labels, DRM-Free

When Apple made a deal with record label EMI to offer the label’s catalog on iTunes in DRM-free format a year and a half ago, it was heralded as a major shift for the music industry. Consumers were fed up with the hassles of DRM schemes, there was no evidence they hindered piracy in the slightest, and predictions abounded that all online music would be soon offered in DRM-free format.

Although some of the DRM-free optimism has proved to be misplaced, here have been some major shifts: other major record labels watched EMI’s experiment and eventually jumped on board, with Universal perhaps embracing the DRM-free idea most aggressively. And so far, none of the labels have backtracked on their DRM-free stances, although no doubt if some magical technology came along that enabled them to sell music that worked seamlessly for consumers but couldn’t be pirated…they’d be on it in a heartbeat.

So, in the spirit of “landmark moments in DRM-free music,” it’s worth noting that there is now one service offering high-quality, DRM-free MP3 tracks from all four major record labels—EMI, Warner Music, Universal Music, and now Sony BMG. And it’s not iTunes. Or Amazon. Or eMusic, Napster (um, Best Buy), Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, or the Zune Marketplace. It’s the UK’s 7digital, which is now offering more than 4 million tracks in 320 kbps, DRM-free MP3 format.

“We are extremely happy to be the first and only digital media company providing a full catalog of MP3 music for the increasing number of people who are using the Internet to download music onto different devices,” said 7digital CEo Ben Drury, in a statement. “Consumers see DRM as somewhat of a hindrance when purchasing legal digital music. The availability of all of the big four music labels in high-quality MP3 is fantastic news for the UK music fan—everything they now buy from us they can be sure will work on all their devices.”

Unlike DRM-protected music—whether using Apple’s FairPlay technology or Windows DRM—MP3 playback is supported on virtually any computer, music-capable phone, or digital media device.

Want to get in on some of 7digital’s MP3 goodness? The service has announced plans to expand into the U.S. and Canadian markets in the fourth quarter of 2008.

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