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Apple Drops DRM: the Expanded Edition

Apple is really going out with a bang – out from attending the Macworld conference, that is. In a last hurrah, the company has decided to drop Digital Rights Management (DRM) from all 10 million plus songs on iTunes by the end of this quarter.

Back when iTunes first appeared six years ago, it quickly caught on with audiophiles everywhere... much like how most things from Apple catch on and become epidemic very fast. Originally, iTunes customers could only obtain DRM-Free music via iTunes Plus tracks, which was heavily limited since only one large label offered tunes: EMI (there were many small labels available however).

Now Apple plans to unleash over 10 million songs from its available database to its iTunes customers, all DRM-Free. Every track will be of iTunes Plus quality, but here is the catch: with DRM gone, the new system will be tier based. What does this mean? Read on. 

iTunes will now have a unique, three-tier pricing system in place for music. Starting on April 1st of this year, tracks will cost $0.69, $0.99, and $1.29. How exactly these prices are determined remains a mystery, but it is probably safe to assume that $0.69 will be applied to older cataloged tracks, while $0.99 and $1.29 will be applied to increasingly popular tracks ($1.29 being the new or most popular tunes more than likely).

All record labels carried by iTunes will be DRM-Free, EVERYTHING. This surprising turn may bring a sigh of relief from many people, however it may cause a disturbance for others (see below about upgrading your existing library). But what about other sites on the web that are already offering DRM-Free music, such as Amazon? What is the difference then? None, figuratively. Technically speaking though, Amazon offers MP3 while iTunes offers AAC.

How many tracks are currently available DRM-Free on iTunes? About 8 million apparently, the rest will become available as DRM-Free over time – by the end of this quarter.

And what about current tracks that customers have already purchased? Yes, you can have DRM removed from them as well, but this too will cost you money. iTunes will offer the ability for its customers to upgrade their current library at a cost of 30 cents per song, for currently qualifying songs – 60 cents per qualifying video.

That being said, it is hard not to think that this could be a "snatch and grab" cash cow for bad times. The way the economy is right now, everyone is looking for fast money. iTunes has been extremely successful ever since its conception, so what sparked the DRM-Free movement? Obviously not to make customers more happy, because the numbers alone say that kind of movement isn’t really required at this point in time. But the economy says otherwise. Something to think about? Maybe.

Ultimately, this is just one of the movements from Apple in their flurry of eye openers since they will not be attending Macworld again next year. Check out our Macworld article, Apple’s Final Show for more!

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