Universal bypasses iTunes with DRM-free music trial

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Los Angeles (CA) – Following a similar announcements made earlier this year by EMI (iTunes , Musicnet), Universal Music Group will be releasing music tracks without an integrated technology that restricts the use of the music files.

The DRM-free offer is scheduled to begin on August 21 and will be available through eight online stores, including Amazon.com, Google, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Rhapsody, Transworld, PassAlong and Puretracks. iTunes, which is claimed by Apple to hold more than 75% of the digital music market in the U.S. is not included in this list.

Other than the announcement of EMI, Universal so far has committed to a time-limited trial, as the DRM-free music will be available only until December 31, 2007. But Universal is more aggressive in promoting this offering, as the company will not be charging a premium for this music over DRM-equipped tracks. The music will generally sell for 99 cents per song, but apparently for as low as 88 cents at Walmart.com

Among the first retailers to announce the participation in the trial were Real Network's Rhapsody and Best Buy. Subscribers of Rhapsody, which is available for $13 and $15 per month, can purchase DRM-free tracks for 89 cents per song; the company will also offer tracks for 99 cents to non subscribers. In a statement released today, Rhapsody said that "albums and songs from many of the [Universal's] top-selling artists, including 50 Cent, Amy Winehouse, The Pussycat Dolls, The Police and Johnny Cash among others" will be available in an "open [256 kbps] MP3 format with no rights management restrictions."

According to Universal, the DRM-free music will be made available in MP3 format, but retailers have the option to sell the music in any other format they wish.

“Based on what we hear from customers and our own research, we firmly believe DRM-free music is what the consumer wants,” said Jennifer Schaidler, vice president of music for Best Buy. "We believe customers will respond positively to the idea of getting unprotected music without having to pay more for that freedom.”

Best Buy's music platform is also based on Real's Rhapsody service and will be offering songs for 89 cents for subscribers and 99 cents for non-subscribers.

Apple did not comment on today's announcements. According to an article recently published in the New York Times, Universal refused to renew a music distribution contract with Apple last month.