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Apple hints at opening up iTunes

It calls on music industry to drop piracy guards


Apple has indicated it would open its iTunes store to MP3 players besides its own iPod if the world’s major record labels abandoned the anti-piracy technology that serves as the industry’s security blanket.

Apple’s Chief Executive Steve Jobs made the case for abolishing the protections known as Digital Rights Management, or DRM, in an open letter posted on the California-based company’s website.

But critics derided the message as a disingenuous manoeuvre designed to soften a recent backlash in Europe, where iTunes’ incompatibility with other portable music devices besides the iPod has been branded anti-competitive.

Over the past eight months, consumer rights and protection groups in Germany, France, Norway and the Netherlands have lodged complaints against Apple for iTunes’ over the issue.

Anti piracy technology

Jobs’ essay, dubbed ‘Thoughts on Music’, cited the recording labels’ anti-piracy technology as the main reason music sold through iTunes could not be transferred to other portable players besides the iPod.

Those same DRM protections also prevent the iPod from playing music bought from many other competing online stores.

If not for the safeguards, Jobs asserted that Apple would be able to create a more flexible system that would allow iTunes music to work on other devices, such as Microsoft’s recently introduced Zune.

Jobs suggested that consumers unhappy with the status quo should urge the world’s four largest labels – Universal Music Group, British group EMI, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group – to sell their online catalogues without the DRM restrictions. Those four labels distribute more than 70 per cent of the world’s music.

Online music

‘Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly “interoperable” music marketplace,’ Jobs wrote. ‘Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.’

EMI began selling a handful of songs in an MP3-file format that is not shielded and has been encouraged by the consumer response to the experiment, spokeswoman Jeanne Murphy said. She declined to comment on Jobs’ call to end all DRM protections.

The tremendous reach of the iTunes store makes it difficult for the music industry to ignore or ridicule Jobs.

Since its debut nearly four years ago, iTunes has sold more than two billion songs, mostly for 52p apiece.

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