FAQ: iTunes and DRM-Free Music

Apple and EMI today announced that you'll soon be able to buy higher-quality, DRM-free digital music from EMI artists through the iTunes Music Store. These songs will be added to the list of copy-protected songs that iTunes currently offers, which play only via iTunes or on iPods. The EMI files also will cost more than DRM-protected songs.

We had questions about the plans, and you probably do also. Here are ours--with answers.

Why are Apple and EMI doing this? What's in it for them?

More money, for starters, as the DRM-free music costs almost one-third more. Also, EMI says it sees the deal as a strategic move to be a big player in the rapidly expanding digital marketplace (the record company could use the boost to its business, given recent profit troubles).

For Apple' part, CEO Steve Jobs has previously voiced his opposition to DRM, and analysts say there is no coincidence that Apple is making this move as consumer groups in Europe have criticized Apple for making music purchased on iTunes compatible only with Apple's own iPod music player.

When will these music files become available for purchase?

In May. We're trying to pin down a specific date.

How much will the files cost?

They'll cost $1.29 per song--30 cents more than iTunes' current price of 99 cents for DRM-protected songs. But full albums will cost the same as the current iTunes price ($9.99 for most albums).

What's the difference in quality between current iTunes songs and the new files?

iTunes songs are currently sold as 128-kilobits-per-second music in .aac format. The new, DRM-free music will be 256 kbps, which means less compression and higher audio quality.

Can real people tell the difference between 128 kbps and 256 kpbs?

Yep. But don't take our word for it. Senior Editor Eric Dahl just blogged about this issue and placed some music ripped at both bit rates in his blog. Try out these music files yourself and vote in the PCW poll.

What about the Beatles' catalog? Will I be able to buy digital versions of Beatles songs?

Sorry, though the Beatles are somewhat of the Holy Grail, no digital Beatles music is available just yet. The Beatles' Apple Corporation (different from Apple Computer) has to consent to releasing Beatles music in digital format, and it hasn't yet done so. "We are working on that," says Eric Nicoli, chief executive officer of EMI.

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