Universal, Warner, SonyBMG join iTunes Plus?

The long-standing duel between Apple and three major labels, Universal, Warners and Sony BMG may be coming to an end, with tracks from these majors now showing up within the iTunes Plus music upgrade service.

There’s been strong rumours claiming negotiations between Apple and the labels to offer music at high quality free of restrictive DRM have intensified in recent weeks. Sony BMG is already thought to be uploading tracks to make available through iTunes Plus.

Overnight sundry spies have spotted tracks from the three hold-out majors popping up in the ‘Upgrade My Library’ section of iTunes, where users can upgrade their purchases from DRM’d to DRM-free tracks.

For example, Rakim’s rather special ‘The 18th Letter/The Book of Life’ is currently available to upgrade to iTunes Plus. The major label behind this release is, of course, Universal.

iTunes Plus was introduced in April 2007 with DRM-free tracks from EMI. The catalogue later grew to include music from many independent labels. While songs cost slightly more, they ship in higher-quality 256k bitrates. You can upgrade existing purchases for 20-pence.

Apple’s move to offer its full catalogue in DRM-free format opens the doors for a level playing field in digital music, with services including Amazon MP3 in the US and 7digital in the UK already offering tracks free of DRM in MP3 format for sale at the same price as an ordinary iTunes track.

Open to question at time of writing is whether Apple will compete on price by lowering iTunes Plus track prices to match existing standard downloads, and whether the company will make a major announcement on its plans later today. (Customarily, watch for an announcement around 1.30pm, well, if an announcement is to be made at all).

** Well, the day’s moving on and no official news yet – we’ve dropped an enquiry to Apple, and their lack of a response suggests at present these moves belong in the official ‘rumour and speculation’ department, it may be helpful if readers have a check to see what songs/artists from the three majors they can dig out using the ‘Upgrade’ feature in iTunes, and note them here. Hang in there.

12 thoughts on “Universal, Warner, SonyBMG join iTunes Plus?

  1. Neurotic Nomad

    If true, this will be the final nail in DRMed Music’s coffin.

    Apple’s refusal to license FairPlay put the RIAA over a barrel when the store that catered to the hottest selling device became the hottest store.

    This left the pushers of DRM with four choices:

    1) Let other stores license a different and incompatible DRM and render their music files incompatible with the hottest selling device.

    2) Go DRM-free on all stores except iTunes and lock all non-Apple portable music player owners out of the largest music retailer.

    3) Consider suing Apple for not licensing FairPlay to other retailers, and/or for not buying a license from someone else in the “DRM software market”. Realize it has no merits. Start dropping the word “monopoly” in the press and suggest that the reason for crappy sales in other stores is because of Apple’s price controls.

    4) Piss, moan, and finally let Apple remove DRM.

    They’ve tried the first three.

  2. AJK Photography

    It certainly seems to be happening. I’m seeing more Plus tracks in the UK store and the link to the iTunes Plus area has reappeared.

    There has been a sort of move to variable pricing in recent months, at least with albums. There have been lots of special offers and although the CDs can still often be bought for less, it is a step in the right direction. DRM-free music and variable pricing is great news.

    By the way, iTunes Plus tracks already cost the same as standard tracks with DRM. iTunes Plus music used to cost more but that changed quite some time ago.

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