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Universal to Sell Music Without Copy Protection... but Not on iTunes

NYTimes reports that Universal Music is planning to sell a significant portion of its catalog without copy protection (DRM) "for at least the next few months" according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Universal, the worlds biggest music conglomerate, is set to announce that it will offer albums and songs without the software, known as digital rights management, through existing digital music retail services like RealNetworks and Wal-Mart, nascent services from Amazon.com and Google, and some artists web Wites, these people said.


Universal is specifically not expected to offer DRM-free music through Apple's iTunes service.

This plan is described as a "test" and is expected to run from August 21 to January 31 to gauge user demand and to determine if there is any effect on online piracy. The exclusion of iTunes is seen as a push to leverage power away from Apple's iTunes which currently leads the digital music industry.

It was clear that trouble had been brewing between Universal and Apple, with the recent announcement that Universal would not renew their long term iTunes contract and instead be continuing "at will."

EMI was the first label to adopt DRM-free music distribution in a joint announcement with Apple. EMI's DRM-Free tracks are called "iTunes Plus" and cost $1.29/song for the DRM-free, but higher quality tracks.

According to the New York Times article EMI's sales results have been "promising". APNews reports that the tracks will be offered from Universal in MP3 format and expected to sell for 99 cents "in a variety of bit rates".