US music store Rhapsody.com has joined major rivals Amazon, Napster and iTunes in making music available for download as MP3 files, without encoded copy protection.
Five million DRM-free files are now available at 99 cents per single (50p), including material from all for major record labels (Universal, Warner, Sony BMG and EMI). Albums retail at $9.99 (£5). All MP3s are at a bit-rate of 256kbps (kilobits-per-second).
Rhapsody has previously specialised in streaming music to subscribers paying a monthly fee, and the new MP3 store is just part of an ongoing programme which should see it selling music across a variety of platforms, including social networking sites such as Facebook, via the iLike application, streaming and downloading via the Viacom sites including MTV and VH1, and through Yahoo Music, due to go live soon.
Digital music sales in the UK continue to grow, with the British Phonographic Institute reporting that they now account for about 85% of Top 20 single sales, and 8.6% of all UK record company sales income.
DRM (Digital Rights Management) has long been controversial, and increasingly the music industry appears to be arriving at the conclusion that it is unworkable. Audio CDs containing DRM protection have not been sold since January 2007, when EMI became the last major label to discontinue use of the technology on CDs. The company stated at the time: "The costs of DRM do not measure up to the results".
More after the break
In February 2007 Steve Jobs called on the major record labels to eliminate the use of DRM altogether, saying that it only hurt those who wished to download music legally, and didn't affect those using it illegally at all.