EMI considers DRM-free music downloads

London (England) - As a response to falling online music sales, UK-based EMI Group PLC, the largest music publisher in the world, has begun a campaign to allow its music online without any form of encryption, and is pressuring digital stores like iTunes to join in the effort.

The Wall Street Journal reports that EMI has been talking with several online retailers to open up the digital music space and allow them to sell their music without proprietary technology restrictions. Stores like iTunes restrict the way that purchased music can be accessed, allowing playback only on specific devices without the possibility of copying tracks.

The DRM subject has come back to the forefront after Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote an open letter, saying that if the "big four" music labels embraced DRM-free downloads, it would lift its playback restrictions on iTunes, and offer unrestricted MP3 versions of songs to consumers. EMI is one of the big four.

Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, and Warner Music Group round out the dominating record companies. Warner has voiced strong opinions about lifting DRM restrictions for its music, which outlines the problem in the industry. Record labels have differing views about how to sell music digitally, but they all have to go through major online retailers, like iTunes and Connect, to see significant music sales, and the stores need to have a universal format for transparency to consumers.

The fact is, though, that DRM restrictions have done nearly nothing to prevent piracy. All major digital stores allow users to download music tracks to a CD, which can be easily ripped to unrestricted MP3 format and shared online. The sheer volume of free-for-all music files that are already circulating peer-to-peer networks also opens up piracy, regardless of what is being done through the official channels. Despite this, some music labels are wary of the digital space and hang on to any kind of security it can have on its copyrighted content.

Among the outlets EMI is pursuing for DRM-free downloads are Rhapsody, Emusic.com, Musicnet, and MTV Online. EMI is the parent company of dozens of music labels, including Virgin Records, Capitol Records, and Columbia.