Commentary

More DRM-Free Music, This Time From Napster

In what could well be the final nail in the coffin for DRM-protected music, Napster today launched an online music store with 6 million tracks. They cost 99 cents each, the same as iTunes charges, but are free of the software restrictions that make it difficult for users to transfer tracks to portable players and other devices.

The move comes around eight months after Amazon launched its DRM-free MP3 store, which now offers around 5 million tracks.

Market leader Apple still sells tracks that, for the most part, come bundled with software that makes it difficult to play them on portables other than iPods. ITunes last year began offering some DRM-free tracks from EMI, but as of last October only had 2 million such tracks.

Napster's new store is launching on the heels of a recent DRM debacle with Microsoft's former online music store, MSN Music, closed in 2006. The company recently said that purchasers won't be able to easily transfer music to other computers or devices after Aug. 31. That's when Microsoft is ending its support for the "license keys" that enable purchasers to authorize playing the music on another computers. Users who had purchased tracks from the store and want to listen to them on a new computer will have to take affirmative steps, such as burning copies to CDs -- and suffering a loss in quality.

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Given the ways DRM limits purchasers from perfectly legitimate activity, like putting tracks on a portable player, it's hard to know why anyone will buy a song at iTunes rather than from Amazon, Napster or anywhere else where it's available without DRM.

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