May 31, 2007 3:00 am

Apple iTunes starts to sell unrestricted music

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Apple on Wednesday launched an online music service that allows consumers to download and play EMI tracks free of digital rights management restrictions, by artists including Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Coldplay and Gorillaz.

EMI is the first large record label to join the new iTunes Plus service, which charges more for each track but offers better sound quality than normal iTunes music downloads.

Consumers buying the EMI music will also be able to play tracks on multiple devices, rather than just on their iPods, because the music will be free of DRM.

Apple and EMI on Wednesday said the improvement in sound quality would be an important factor in the growth of the new service. "The difference in quality is like night and day," said Barney Wragg, EMI's global head of digital music.

EMI had found that many music fans had shied away from buying downloaded music because of concerns about competing formats, he added. "They didn't want to buy the wrong format."

But the launch of a DRM-free service addressed those concerns and was "a really significant step forward for consumers".

Apple, meanwhile, said DRM-free music was in effect an "insurance policy".

"Our customers aren't telling us that they want to use a bunch of devices," said Eddy Cue, Apple's vice-president for iTunes. Instead, he said, DRM-free music on iTunes Plus means "your music will work in the future on any device".

Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, added he expected more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of the 2007.

To date, EMI is the only leading label to go DRM-free. Other labels are expected to follow, however, while several independent labels have also come on board.

The announcement came as EMI made Paul McCartney's solo back catalogue available for download on iTunes and iTunes Plus. Apple and EMI are hopeful they will eventually also be able to make the Beatles back catalogue available, although legal wranglings have held up the move.

■ Separately, Sony/ATV Music publishing, the joint venture owned by Sony Corp and Michael Jackson, has acquired Viacom's Famous Music for $370m in the company's first deal since hiring a new chief executive this year, writes Aline van Duyn from New York.

Martin Bandier, who built EMI's music publishing business into the industry's largest but left to run Sony/ATV in April, struck a deal with Viacom for its music publishing business, which includes 125,000 songs and themes from films such as The Godfather, Mission Impossible and Flashdance.

"This is a perfect fit that sits with the strategic goals I set out for Sony/ATV," said Mr Bandier, chairman and chief executive of Sony/ATV. "All of this music is known around the world and now we have to let the world know it is available."

The companies have not disclosed terms but people familiar with the deal said Sony/ATV paid $370m.

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