After Steve Jobs' open letter to record executives back in February, it was clear that DRM-free music (music without digital rights management technology) wasn't far away for Apple users. Today, the concept became a reality with the release of iTunes 7.2 (download it for Windows or Mac OS X).
As of today, all of the songs from music label EMI on Apple's iTunes Store will be free of DRM via a new service called iTunes Plus. (Note: that link will open iTunes and take you to iTunes Plus, but only if you have version 7.2 installed.)
The new DRM-free tracks will be 256Kbps-encoded AAC files that cost $1.29, 30 cents more than the regular, 128Kbps-encoded AAC files that include Apple's FairPlay technology, which limits the number of iPods and computers to which the song can be copied. If you have a large collection of iTunes-purchased music already, you can upgrade any of your old EMI tracks with FairPlay DRM to the new DRM-free versions for 30 cents a pop.
I'm personally not much of an iTunes fan, but the 36.2MB upgrade to version 7.2 installed fine, with only a few annoyances. I'm never sure why it requires me to quit Microsoft Outlook, and it also always sticks QuickTime and the iTunes Helper into my startup menu without asking. Naughty!
Beefs with iTunes aside, it's good to see one of the major labels making a move to offer fans DRM-free music. I expect to see many more publishers and sites taking the same approach soon.
In related news, the Web site PayPlay.fm relaunched today, claiming it's the "world's largest MP3 download music store." It offers DRM-free MP3 files for $0.88 apiece, but since none of the major music labels are included, you're not likely to find many familiar artists. The Web site eMusic also offers DRM-free MP3 files with various monthly subscription plans. It also focuses on independent music labels, but which ones are uncertain as the catalog is only viewable to members who have registered with a credit card.
For more information about Apple's new iTunes Plus feature, read Candace Lombardi's article on CNET News.com. You can download iTunes 7.2 for Windows or Mac OS X via CNET Download.com.