EMI Enters DRM-Free Pact with PassAlong

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Major music label EMI has entered into a deal with PassAlong Networks to offer songs from EMI’s music catalog in DRM-free MP3 format via PassAlong’s network of StoreBlocks-drive online stores. The files will be encoded at a high-quality bit rate (320 Kbps) and, since they’re free of DRM and in a widely-supported format, they’ll work on everything from mobile phones to stereo systems to computers to iPods.

Tennesee-based PassAlong Networks’ StoreBlocks technology is used by over 100 online music stores to offer online music purchases to customers—examples include Proctor & Gamble’s Julie’s Jukebox, HomeMadeSimple.com’s music store, and TransWorld’s f.y.e. (for your entertainent).

“We applaud EMI Music’s bold decision to test the DRM-free waters,” said PassAlong Networks’ co-founder and CEO Dave Jaworski. “Music consumers have demanded interoperability and ease of use and we hope that by offering EMI Music’s DRM-free music files, we will simplify and improve their digital music experience.”

The move is another step in EMI’s decision to abandon digital rights management (DRM) technology in its online music sales, in the hope that improved interoperability (and improved audio quality via higher encoding rates) will spur online music sales. EMI first partnered with Apple to offer DRM-free music via iTunes, but that deal was not exclusive, and EMI has front the start emphasized its intentions to offer DRM-free music through multiple channels.

Unlike EMI’s DRM-free offerings through iTunes—which embrace EMI’s entire catalog—the company’s current deal with PassAlong currently includes only about 100,000 tracks. PassAlong offers about 2 million other MP3 format songs from independent artists.

“PassAlong Networks is yet another example of a forward-thinking company that puts consumers first,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group. “We believe offering PassAlong’s large customer base the opportunity to buy recordings from EMI Music’s prestigious roster of artists, in higher quality and in a format that will allow them to play their purchases on the device or platform of their choice will boost sales of digital music overall.”

So far none of the other major music distributors have announced plans to abandon DRM technology, but they are certainly eyeing EMI’s experiment closely. Industry watchers—and Apple itself—have forecast at least one other major label will begin offering DRM-free music by the end of 2007.

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