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8/10/2007
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DRM Tide Turning? Universal Music To Offer DRM-Free Tunes

Companies insisted they needed DRM to protect their copyrighted material and artists' profits, but industry experts and insiders have begun leaning the other way.

In a sign that the record industry is rethinking its stance toward online music, Universal Music Group said this week it will sell music free of digital rights management technology through some retailers during a test period that lasts until January.

The company announced the move Thursday, becoming the latest to ditch the technology, which restricts users from copying and redistributing music. The music business is struggling to boost sales while relatively new trends, like illegal file-sharing, take away from legitimate purchases. Universal has been one of several companies that aggressively protect their material through lawsuits, DRM, and other measures.

Many recording companies insisted they needed DRM to protect their copyrighted material and artists' profits, but industry experts and insiders have begun leaning the other way. Apple, Amazon, EMI Music, Yahoo, and Sony also have released DRM-free music recently, but it's not clear yet what impact that has had on sales or other trends.

Universal said its limited trial will allow the company to analyze whether the offerings boost sales, increase profits, or cut down on piracy. The test includes major outlets like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Google, Best Buy, and Rhapsody -- but not iTunes.

Like Universal, Sony and Yahoo released DRM-free music on a limited basis. Yahoo last year released personalized Jessica Simpson music without DRM, allowing buyers to have their names included in her song, "A Public Affair," so it would speak to them.

Peter Gabriel also announced DRM-free music in April. His venture, We7, offers DRM-free music to users willing to listen to short commercials.

A shift to DRM-free music could open up the field for MP3 players other than the iPod, The New York Post pointed out.

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