iTunes ditches DRM, adds free educational content

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Apple's iTunes Plus. Pic courtesy of Apple.

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May 31, 2007 Apple has finally announced the news that users have been waiting for - the first step in the removal of restrictive Digital Rights Management software that, among other things, prevented iTunes music from being played on non-iPod devices. The entire EMI catalogue is now available DRM-free, at a small price premium but with higher quality sound files. Apple simultaneously announced iTunes U, a free service allowing users to download lectures, campus tours and other materials provided by top US colleges.

iTunes Plus: DRM-free music finally available, at a price It shouldn't be big news, but it is: Apple today launched iTunes Plus—DRM-free music tracks featuring high quality 256 kbps AAC encoding for audio quality virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings—for $1.29 per song, a 30c per song premium option over the normal 99c song price. iTunes Plus is launching initially with EMI’s digital catalog of recordings, including singles and albums from Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Joss Stone, Pink Floyd, John Coltrane and more than a dozen of Paul McCartney’s classic albums available on iTunes for the first time.

iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today—128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM—at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside the higher quality iTunes Plus versions when available. In addition, iTunes customers can now upgrade their library of previously purchased EMI content to iTunes Plus tracks for just 30 cents a song and $3.00 for most albums.

Consumers have been angry about the FairPlay DRM software since it was first revealed, viewing it as the music industry's way of punishing good, fee-paying consumers for the actions of music pirates. The DRM solution has been almost completely ineffective in preventing music piracy, as it was quickly cracked and broken by dilligent hackers. It has, however been effective in limiting iTunes users in their choice of devices; the iPod and iPhone are among a very small group of devices that have the ability to decode FairPlay-encoded files.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO is expecting other recording companies to follow suit and offer DRM-free versions of their songs: “We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year.”

iTunes U: Free educational content from America's top universities This is an interesting move - Apple has created a new section within its iTunes store to provide free content such as course lectures, language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights and campus tours provided by top US colleges and universities including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University and MIT.

The universities have essentially agreed to publically podcast a huge amount of educational content through the iTunes store. The universities gain broader public recognition and an excellent channel through which to distribute their lecture podcasts to existing and potential students, Apple gets to channel more users through its iTunes store, and you and I get to sit in on top-class lectures on anything from climate change to particle physics, music to theology, anatomy to existentialism in film.

There's already an astonishing amount of fresh iTunes U content available, and there seems to be a commitment from the involved universities to regularly add and update the store as the school year progresses.

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