iTunes Goes DRM-Free

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In January 2009, Apple announced the lifting of Digital Rights Management (DRM) from its iTunes music downloads, and eight million songs became free of the software that inhibits consumers' ability to transfer downloaded music freely among different devices like iPods and MP3 players.

The remainder of Apple's iTunes music collection—another two million downloads—will be available DRM-free by the end of April 2009.

Apple also announced a new pricing system for its iTunes music downloads: New releases and the most popular songs cost $1.29, some others $0.99, but most songs now cost $0.69. Previously downloaded songs can be upgraded to DRM-free for $0.30 per song or 30% of the album's purchase price.

Even though iTunes has sold 6 billion songs in 6 years, digital music sales have been declining and in 2008, Apple's Steve Jobs took action. He wrote an open letter to the music industry urging them to lift DRM software from downloads. DRM software makes it difficult for consumers to transfer and play songs downloaded from iTunes on devices other than iPods and limits the number of times a file can be copied.

EMI responded and went DRM-free on iTunes, but the other leading record labels (Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group) refused to grant Apple permission to remove DRM from their downloads; meanwhile, though, they did permit other sellers such as Walmart and Amazon.com to sell DRM-free downloads of their songs—presumably to help Apple's competitors gain some ground and keep iTunes from getting a corner on the market.

Although record companies have insisted that DRM software exists to combat piracy and protect artists' intellectual property rights, critics insist that it restricts even legal uses of downloaded materials. An entire tech industry has arisen, in fact, specializing in getting around the restrictions that DRM software imposes.

Now, with record companies coming around to DRM-free downloads, it would seem that such businesses may not be necessary, but now another question arises—will Apple and other sellers continue to support the software for those tracks that still have DRM? At the very least, it seems likely that such support would eventually be phased out, so iTunes' consumers may want to start their upgrades soon.