EMI unlocks songs sold through iTunes

EMI Group has agreed to take the digital locks off songs it sells through the Apple iTunes store, the record producer announced in London Monday.

EMI Group has agreed to take the digital locks off songs it sells through the Apple iTunes store, the recording company announced in London Monday.

But there will be a premium price for songs sold without copying restrictions, it said in a joint announcement with Apple.

Songs with digital rights management (DRM)software that prevents copying from one player to another will continue to sell for 99 cents, while those without the DRM software will cost $1.29.

The premium tracks will also be encodedat 256 KBps in the advanced audio coding (AAC) format, an improvement over the current 128 KBps format. Users who already own the older DRM-protected tracks will also be able to upgrade their tracks for an extra 30 cents each.

The move comes after Apple chief executive Steve Jobs called for recording companies to sell songs without copy-protection software.

"This is the next big step forward in the digital music revolution — the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music," Jobs said at the news conference.

"The right thing to do is to tear down walls that precluded interoperability by going DRM-free and that starts here today."

Jobs said it made no sense to have copyright protection software on downloaded songs and not on CDs.

EMI said almost all of its back catalogue, including material by the Rolling Stones, Norah Jones and Coldplay, will be available under the new deal.

Beatles excluded

However, music by the Beatles continues to be excluded and there was no hint of a deal that would make Beatles songs available for download.

Apple Corps Ltd., which is the Beatles' commercial guardian, has so far declined to allow the Fab Four's music on any internet music services.

There had been speculation ahead of the joint news conference that EMI and Apple wouldmake anannouncement regarding the Beatles.

DRM software prevents songs downloaded from the iTunes store being transferred to digital players made by Microsoft, Sony or other makers.

Consumer rights groups have opposed DRM software on downloaded songs because consumers have traditionally had the right to copy songs they have paid for once.

European legislators have also taken steps to try to open up the downloading market.

Some analysts suggest that lifting the software restrictions could boost sales of online music, which currently account for about 10 per cent of global music sales.

Apple's iTunes store will start selling EMI songs in the "premium" format in May and will allow users to upgrade songs they have already bought to the DRM-free format.

Album-length downloads will continue to be the same price whether they have DRM software or not.