EMI unlocks digital music downloads

Updated: 2007-04-03 08:41

A man is silhouetted as he leaves an EMI Record company building in London. Music giant EMI said Monday it would offer songs by Coldplay, Madonna and a host of other stars for download without copy protection as part of a deal with Apple's iTunes website.[AFP]

Music giant EMI said Monday it would offer songs by Coldplay, Madonna and a host of other stars for download without copy protection as part of a deal with Apple's iTunes website.
EMI, the world's third largest music group, said it will begin to sell music without anti-piracy software over the Internet from May, but did not specify a launch date.

The company added that Apple Inc.'s website would be the first to sell the new downloads, which will also have a superior sound quality and retail at 99 pence, 1.29 euros or 1.29 dollars per track.

The deal only covers EMI's existing digital catalogue, quashing speculation The Beatles' recordings would become available to download legally for the first time.

But EMI said it was working towards putting The Beatles' back catalogue on iTunes, which is touted by Apple, maker of the iPod MP3, as the world's most popular digital music store.

EMI, whose artists also include Gorillaz, Lily Allen, Norah Jones and Robbie Williams, said it would offer its entire digital repertoire at a much higher sound quality than before -- and without the "digital rights management" (DRM) software used to combat piracy.

The group will, however, continue to sell DRM-enabled songs on iTunes at the current price of 79 pence, 0.99 euros and 99 cents per track.

DRM technology restricts how people can copy the music they legally buy from online stores, including the transfer of songs from computers to MP3 players and mobile phones.

This has led to calls for the software to be scrapped, most notably from Apple chief executive

Steve Jobs.

"Selling digital music DRM-free is the right step forward for the music industry," Jobs said at a press conference in London on Monday.

EMI added in a statement that the decision had been made in response to consumer demand for high quality digital music that can be used across all music players.

Eric Nicoli, EMI chief executive, was quizzed about when The Beatles would be added to iTunes.

"We are working on it, there's no timeframe yet," Nicoli told journalists, adding: "Hopefully some time soon."

Earlier this year, Apple Inc. and The Beatles settled their long-running trademark dispute over the use of "Apple" as a name and logo, raising hopes that songs by the Fab Four might soon be available as legal downloads.

The Beatles publishing firm was also called Apple.

The catalogue of Beatles songs, including "Let it Be," "Hey Jude" and "Come Together," is barred from legal Internet download sites at the band's insistence, despite protests from the EMI music label, which owns their recording rights.

Nicoli added that providing DRM-free downloads would help EMI to generate a quarter of its revenues from the Internet by 2010.

"This deal will make our music more accessible and increase revenues," he said.

EMI has hit the headlines in recent months after rejecting a takeover from US rival Warner Music Group and after posting two profit warnings since the start of 2007.

EMI is battling against sliding sales of compact discs in the United States, which also led to a boardroom shake-up.

Warner's bid, made early last month, had valued EMI at 2.08 billion pounds (3.07 billion euros, 4.05 billion dollars).

In London trading on Monday, EMI's share price finished 0.33 percent higher at 228.25 pence. The British capital's second-tier FTSE 250 shares index ended up 0.60 percent at 11,759.90 points.

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