The earlier rumblings came to pass as today, major music publisher EMI announced copy protection free downloads with Apple’s iTunes as the first vendor:
EMI Group CEO Eric Nicoli today hosted a press conference at EMI’s headquarters in London where he announced that EMI Music is launching DRM-free superior quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire and that Apple’s iTunes Store will be the first online music store to sell EMI’s new downloads. Nicoli was joined by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
EMI Music today announced that it is launching new premium downloads for retail on a global basis, making all of its digital repertoire available at a much higher sound quality than existing downloads and free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.
Apple’s iTunes Store (www.itunes.com) is the first online music store to receive EMI’s new premium downloads. Apple has announced that iTunes will make individual AAC format tracks available from EMI artists at twice the sound quality of existing downloads, with their DRM removed, at a price of $1.29/€1.29/£0.99. iTunes will continue to offer consumers the ability to pay $0.99/€0.99/£0.79 for standard sound quality tracks with DRM still applied. Complete albums from EMI Music artists purchased on the iTunes Store will automatically be sold at the higher sound quality and DRM-free, with no change in the price. Consumers who have already purchased standard tracks or albums with DRM will be able to upgrade their digital music for $0.30/€0.30/£0.20 per track. All EMI music videos will also be available on the iTunes Store DRM-free with no change in price.
EMI is willing to sign up other vendors too, but Apple is first out of the gate and this is a great PR victory for Steve Jobs after his open letter calling for an end to DRM. The general belief at the moment is that most music on iPods and other digital music players is actually ripped from CDs and not downloaded, so it will be interesting to see if the higher quality coupled with lack of DRM changes that. Maybe the end of the CD is in sight?
Although certain non-iPod players can handle unprotected AAC, the format hardly enjoys the sort of universal support that MP3 does. Although Microsoft, Nokia, Sandisk (e200 line), and Sony already include AAC playback on their devices, other players from Sandisk, Creative, Toshiba, Cowon, Philips, etc. won’t be able to play the new files… yet.
If the idea of selling music as unprotected AAC files takes off as much as EMI and Apple expect it to, support for AAC will become a critical feature on any digital audio player. Fortunately, that can be added via firmware, as Sony did last year to several of its models.
So keep checking with your vendor for updates if you want to play and AAC isn’t currently supported.