EMI Records will begin selling songs on iTunes without DRM [Ars Technica]. Other content on the iTunes Music Store uses formats such as .m4p that make copying difficult (not impossible). EMI tracks will now be available in freely copyable .m4a AAC format.
Of course they’re still charging for downloads; in fact these new tracks cost more — $1.29 vs. 99¢. Apple and EMI are emphasizing that the tracks are encoded at a higher bitrate (256kbps vs. 128) as an explanation for the price increase. From my experience, that difference in quality is quite noticeable and may well be worth it for some listeners. I can still hear distortion in that format, so I buy physical CDs and rip them. I’ll stick with Apple’s Lossless encoder which sounds great and also has no DRM.
It’s really nice to see Steve Jobs put his .m4as where his mouth is. We’ll see if the doom-sayers are right and people stop paying for downloads now that they are freely copyable. My guess is no: people are willing to pay a little for the convenience of legitimate downloads, and maybe a little more for the convenience of being able to play them in other devices besides their iPod and their iTunes-authorized computers.
I would also guess that EMI will not stand by to find out whether p2p networks are flooded with these songs — many labels hire someone to obfuscate [Ars].