Apple to (Finally) Allow Music Without Copy Protection & With Variable Pricing

In a not-entirely-unexpected move, Apple announced at Macworld yesterday that, starting this week, it would remove DRM restrictions from all of the songs in the iTunes store and allow the record companies to set variable prices for them.

It’s a change that Apple has long sought, but three of the major music labels (Sony, Universal and Warner) have blocked contract negotiations up to this point.

To get this concession from those labels, Apple agreed to allow variable pricing for tracks. This was a change that Apple has never wanted to implement: their position was that a uniform price was better for consumers. But now there appear to be three price points: obscure back-catalogue tracks will cost 69 cents, moderately popular back-catalogue tracks will cost 99 cents, and new hit songs will cost $1.29.

Reportedly, the massive slowing of both CD and digital music sales over the past year was the impetus for these negotiations.

What about all those songs you bought off the iTunes store in the past? Apple announced a much less consumer-friendly option: pay a whopping 30 cents per track or 30% of the album price to strip the copy protection from it — in other words, you will now have to pay a premium in order to have the unfettered use of your music that should have been included in the original price. Is this another concession to the labels?

A story with more detail appeared here on the New York Times yesterday.

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