EMI Considers Selling Unprotected MP3s?

Following on the heels of Steve Jobs’ open letter this week declaring that the best digital music solution for consumers would be if record labels agreed to sell their music without digital rights management technologies impeding consumers, rumors are surfacing in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere that record label EMI is considering offering some or all of its music catalog for sale in unprotected MP3 format.

London-based EMI is the third largest of the so-called “Big Four” record labels, but its roster includes some major names in the music business, including The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Norah Jones, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, Keith Urban, Robbie Williams, and—notably—The Beatles. The company has already experimented with releasing individual tracks in unprotected MP3 format and has characterized the results of those releases as “very positive,” with enthusiastic feedback from music fans.

EMI has so far refused to comment at all on speculation the company may roll back or drop DRM requirements in selling digital music, but sources who ought to be familiar with events say EMI has contacted digital music distributors, including Apple, and asked them to submit proposals for how they’d handle selling unprotected MP3s, including details on advance payments they would offer in exchange for selling EMI music as MP3s.

Music in unprotected MP3 format can be played back on virtually any computer or portable media player, regardless of manufacturer or platform, while media protected with DRm technology—such as Windows Media DRM and Apple’s FairPlay—cannot be transferred easily between different operating systems or media players.

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