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Apple in talks to offer DRM-free MP3 tracks via iTunes

post #1 of 66
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Apple is in talks with three of the "big four" record labels about offering music tracks through iTunes that would be made available in MP3 AAC format without copy protection measures, a move that could further distance the digital download service from its rivals.

Citing "two music industry sources," CNet News.com claims the talks with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony BMG are still in the preliminary stages with nothing finalized, though one label is reportedly leaning towards an agreement.

EMI, the other member of the "big four," has been offering its entire catalog to iTunes users free of copy protection measures since April of 2007, however its tracks are being served up in AAC -- a format designed to be the successor to MP3.

In addition to achieving better sound quality at certain bit rates, AAC allows Apple include custom iTunes information such as album artwork and purchase information within the same file that contains the audio track.

A switch to MP3s would rival a move on the part of Amazon.com, which launched an MP3 download service last fall and eventually gained the support of all four major record labels. The retailer has since chipped away at share of the digital audio download market, but not necessarily at Apple's expense.

Should Apple and the record labels ultimately forge a deal, the vast majority of songs purchased from iTunes would no longer be restricted for use solely on Apple's handheld products such as the iPod and iPhone. It would also serve as a serious setback to rivals such as Amazon, who would then need to devise a new way to differentiate their service offerings from the already ubiquitous iTunes.

Amid public scrutiny over the limitations of copy protected songs, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in February of 2007 called upon the "big four" music companies to drop their anti-piracy restrictions and allow digital music tracks to be sold openly on the Internet for any brand of digital music player.

Frustrated with inflexible pricing on the iTunes Store, record labels outside of EMI have refused to cooperate with the iPod maker. They've instead signed deals with many of the company's rivals in an effort to gauge whether they can reduce Cupertino-based company's influence on digital music sales.

Meanwhile, it's reported that Universal Music is expected to join EMI and Warner in licensing their catalogs to Microsoft in MP3s for sale on the Zune Marketplace -- the software giant's answer to Apple's digital download service.

Update: CNet has since changed its story to omit mention of MP3 as the format in which the new unrestricted tracks would be sold. The author responded to a comment on the matter by saying "I don't know whether my sources were just throwing out MP3 as a way to describe unprotected music." It's likely Apple would make the tracks available in unprotected 256 kbps AAC format as it does with those from EMI.
post #2 of 66
Mp3? ...
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post #3 of 66
My order of preference, when I music shop:

256 kbps AAC (iTunes Plus) - no DRM
256 kbps MP3 (Amazon) - no DRM
128 kbps AAC (regular iTunes) - has DRM
128-192 MP3 (I think I'll pass!) - no DRM

If the MP3s are 256, that's acceptable, and DRM-free is extremely welcome, but I'd rather have MP4 (aka AAC).
post #4 of 66
That would be nice, DRM free music from iTunes, but why degrade it by making it mp3? Why not just make the tracks DRM-free AAC? Even the crappiest cellphones today can play back AAC. I don't see the point. Anyone care to enlighten me?

BTW- Regarding "a move that could further distance the digital download service from its rivals.", Isn't Amazon DRM-free?
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post #5 of 66
I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.


Sheldon
post #6 of 66
Strangely enough LastFM seems to think that iTunes already offers music in MP3 format. Did they know something we didn't or was it simply a slip of the mind.
post #7 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by Esteban View Post

That would be nice, DRM free music from iTunes, but why degrade it by making it mp3? Why not just make the tracks DRM-free AAC? Even the crappiest cellphones today can play back AAC. I don't see the point. Anyone care to enlighten me?

BTW- Regarding "a move that could further distance the digital download service from its rivals.", Isn't Amazon DRM-free?

CNet just changed the story without making a note of what they changed, but the mention of MP3 has now been removed in regards to the format Apple will use. It will likely be AAC.

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post #8 of 66
Esteban The record companies (apart from EMI, who were desperate) simply don't want the music offered DRM free in a superior format. They feel that MP3 being limited is a good way to test the market. Maybe if it does work out well years down the line they will accept upgrading the quality, hoping no doubt to resell the tracks, or if it doesn't work out go back to selling increasing better quality DRM only, but I doubt that even they know that yet. If it had a choice obviously Apple would stick to AAC but probably feels it can not delay any longer and rsik losing market share
post #9 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

In addition to achieving better sound quality at certain bit rates, AAC allows Apple include custom iTunes information such as album artwork and purchase information within the same file that contains the audio track.

Um, you can embed album artwork, and any other kind of information, in MP3s. Just not DRM.
post #10 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kasper View Post

CNet just changed the story without making a note of what they changed, but the mention of MP3 has now been removed in regards to the format Apple will use. It will likely be AAC.

K

Now that is interesting if it is correct and would indeed tie in with previous rumours recently regarding talks between Apple and one of the (sorry can't remember which) record companies to use AAC DRM free tracks. That would be great news for the consumer and suggest that the record companies blinked first rather than Apple.
post #11 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Mp3? ...

Not on your Nelly, Nor mine either!
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post #12 of 66
Thank god they didn't mean 256k MP3. In my view, 256k MP3 ~= 128k AAC or 160k at the very best. I actually prefer 160k AAC. 256kMP3 sucks. 256k AAC is very *VERY* close to CD bit perfect sound. Big difference. Good for appleinsider for digging.
post #13 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by stokessd View Post

I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.

No, you are not alone. There is even an applescript that takes you from the iTunes Store to the right site at Amazon (http://www.advantageousmp3.com)

Kevin
post #14 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by twoch View Post

No, you are not alone. There is even an applescript that takes you from the iTunes Store to the right site at Amazon (http://www.advantageousmp3.com)...

This would possibly be the only way to actually *find* anything in the Amazon music store.

I still don't see why anyone would pay for low quality MP3s though. If I can't find it DRM free in iTunes I buy the CD second hand (the only way to NOT get ripped off), and if I can't find that I go down to the harbour and ask the first Pirate I see.
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post #15 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by bwik View Post

Thank god they didn't mean 256k MP3. In my view, 256k MP3 ~= 128k AAC or 160k at the very best. I actually prefer 160k AAC. 256kMP3 sucks. 256k AAC is very *VERY* close to CD bit perfect sound. Big difference. Good for appleinsider for digging.

As usual, it depends a lot on the encoder.
post #16 of 66
Would this apply only to the U.S., or for other countries as well.

We still don't have the Amazon MP3 store in Canada Guess the RIAA doesn't want my business....
post #17 of 66
Article is updated, looks like someone was just using "mp3" to mean unprotected.

That was the only thing about that article that had me scratching my head.

If they are going to switch virtually everything to unprotected AAC, that's fantastic news, and about time. It was obvious that the labels were allowing the same material unprotected on Amazon but protected on iTunes out of nothing more than spite and hope that someone else would gain enough market share to make iTunes less powerful.

It will be a good day when that charade is over.
post #18 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by minderbinder View Post

Article is updated, looks like someone was just using "mp3" to mean unprotected.

That was the only thing about that article that had me scratching my head.

If they are going to switch virtually everything to unprotected AAC, that's fantastic news, and about time. It was obvious that the labels were allowing the same material unprotected on Amazon but protected on iTunes out of nothing more than spite and hope that someone else would gain enough market share to make iTunes less powerful.

It will be a good day when that charade is over.


Yeah I was confused about that one too for a minute. Thanks for clearing that up AI.

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post #19 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by stokessd View Post

I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.


Sheldon

I do the same thing as do my wife and son.

Apple's low bit rate and DRM makes them the LAST choice for me. And don't give me that bologna that 128 AAC is equivalent to 256 mp3. I do however like the layout of the iTunes Store. If Apple can go all DRM free, I'll bring my business back to them.
post #20 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by stokessd View Post

I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.


Sheldon

The MP3's you buy at Amazon are equivalent to AAC's at 128. So your low bit rate argument makes no sense. DRM doesn't affect me at all. I can play the tracks on all my Macs, my iPhone, and iPod. So the "I hate DRM" excuse is only because you want to steal music or give it away for free. If you really hated DRM, you would go out and buy the CD, which will never have DRM restrictions, for the highest quality reproduction of the music.

I still buy CD's from my favorite artists because I want to hear the uncompressed audio at home, and then encode it at the bitrate of my choice for my iPod/iPhone. I would prefer all the music on iTunes to be encoded in AAC/256, regardless of DRM.
post #21 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by stokessd View Post

I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.


Sheldon

Why don't you just strip the DRM from the iTunes tracks?
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post #22 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by tmedia1 View Post

I do the same thing as do my wife and son.

Apple's low bit rate and DRM makes them the LAST choice for me. And don't give me that bologna that 128 AAC is equivalent to 256 mp3. I do however like the layout of the iTunes Store. If Apple can go all DRM free, I'll bring my business back to them.

Well, we do need to give you bolonga because an MP3 at 256 *IS* equivalent to an AAC at 128. AAC is actually MPEG4, which provides better sound quality at a lower bit rate, than MPEG3, which is an MP3 file. It's great that you, your wife, and your son are in the business of stealing music or giving it away for free by searching for lousy sounding MP3 files on the internet. That is the only reason why people claim to hate DRM.

Your entire family would be able to enjoy a DRM-encoded song file without any restriction, well, except the fact that you can't give it away to all your friends.
post #23 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmurchison View Post

Why don't you just strip the DRM from the iTunes tracks?

You lose quality by burning the compressed file to CD, and recompressing it again as a standard AAC. Not really a good solution.
post #24 of 66
Since I have seen some new songs put on store for the same $.99 price, is it not possible that we would be able to get our current library that has DRM tracks DRM-free? Or can I assume we would need to re-purchase those songs again?

The whole thing is a headache...
post #25 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

Well, we do need to give you bolonga because an MP3 at 256 *IS* equivalent to an AAC at 128. AAC is actually MPEG4, which provides better sound quality at a lower bit rate, than MPEG3, which is an MP3 file. It's great that you, your wife, and your son are in the business of stealing music or giving it away for free by searching for lousy sounding MP3 files on the internet. That is the only reason why people claim to hate DRM.

No it is not, MP3 is MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, nothing to do with MPEG 3, and AAC is MPEG4 AAC
post #26 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

The MP3's you buy at Amazon are equivalent to AAC's at 128.

Sounds like hyperbole, not a credible comparison. I've never heard of anyone else placing the quality of Amazon's files that low.
post #27 of 66
Honestly, DRM isn't evil.

it just needs to work well and be interoperable. all the people upset with it also should know the artists / labels are genuinely concerned after all the illegal filesharing. hell even emailing a friend a song you like hurts their earnings.
post #28 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by stokessd View Post

I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.


Sheldon

I'm with you. I had purchased zero albums online before Amazon came out with their DRM free service. I too, purchased probably 10 albums from them this past year though I'll admit they were only the cheapy albums since I'm not going to shell out $$ for 256 MP3s. I actually did buy my first iTunes album, natch it was an EMI DRM free iTunes plus (256 AAC format) one. Apple and the labels need to move asap to (at least) 256 DRM-free AAC) if they want to see rapid growth in sales.

For those that say that the anti-DRM sentiment is for those who want to pirate you have it all wrong - I can't tell you how many authentication problems I've run into when trying out some of the free downloads from iTunes - songs that would instantly report that I have used 3 of my alloted installations even off of a fresh download. Plus, should I want to use a non-Apple product to play my music (though I will say that's not a big concern just right now) I want to be able to do that.

If Apple can't deliver on this, I'll just keep up buying my CDs in the stores. I don't NEED digital delivery, but I do expect quality and convenience (of playability) of my media.

Bleep-Bloop
post #29 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

Well, we do need to give you bolonga because an MP3 at 256 *IS* equivalent to an AAC at 128. AAC is actually MPEG4, which provides better sound quality at a lower bit rate, than MPEG3, which is an MP3 file. It's great that you, your wife, and your son are in the business of stealing music or giving it away for free by searching for lousy sounding MP3 files on the internet. That is the only reason why people claim to hate DRM.

Your entire family would be able to enjoy a DRM-encoded song file without any restriction, well, except the fact that you can't give it away to all your friends.

Yea my family is in the "business" of stealing music. Jeeze I really like how you assume to know everyone's situation and have such an arrogant tone. You must be a real fun guy to be around.

For your information, most people dislike DRM because it makes it difficult to move your music around to different players and to share within your household as I do. I pay for all my music BTW and fully support musicians and the arts. I like to listen to music in my car, my computer, my ipod, my living room and I don't always want to HAVE to use an Apple product to listen to my music (which Apple DRM forces you to do). So next time you start ACCUSING someone of stealing, maybe you should know your facts or at least try to be a little less arrogant. Its a really ugly trait. BTW, those who steal music (as you seem to think you all know about) don't get their music from iTunes where you have to pay for it, they steal it from file sharing networks for free, duh...
post #30 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by mitchelljd View Post

Honestly, DRM isn't evil.

it just needs to work well and be interoperable. all the people upset with it also should know the artists / labels are genuinely concerned after all the illegal filesharing. hell even emailing a friend a song you like hurts their earnings.

Apple DRM doesn't stop people from stealing music, Steve Jobs even said so (he even wants to get rid of it). It only locks you into an Apple product. BTW, CDs are already DRM free...
post #31 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by stokessd View Post

I never buy music from iTunes because of the DRM. I browse for music there because it's a great shopping experience. When I find something I want, I head to amazon to buy it DRM free. Apple has lost about 10 album sales from me due entirely to DRM and low bitrate encoding (not iTunes plus). It's not a lot, but I'm not alone either.


Sheldon

+1

And for those of you saying "DRM doesn't matter"... tell that to the folks who bought DRM'd WalMart music. When Walmart shut down their DRM servers they lost the ability to transfer those songs to a new computer ... want to loose all your music when you buy a new computer?... or planning to use the same computer for the next 20 years?
I don't really think Apple/iTunes is going die anytime soon, but.... DRM (as it is executed currently) sucks bad.

Yes, Walmart has elected to keep those servers active for now... but only because of public outcry... they WERE planning on shutting them down.
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post #32 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by KingOfSomewhereHot View Post

I don't really think Apple/iTunes is going die anytime soon, but.... DRM (as it is executed currently) sucks bad.

Apple offered an out for your DRM from day one. At the time, it was a big win from the studios to actually allow you to copy it to other media, remove the DRM, and to change the original file format.

Does WalMart have no way for the consumer to remove the DRM by burning to a CD?
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post #33 of 66
256 MP3 is nowhere near the quality of 256 AAC. Listen to it on a decent sound system and you'll know.

Heck, listen to it on my Alpine mid to high end system in my car and it is obvious.

256 MP3 IS in the range of sound quality of a 128 AAC for MOST songs.

Listen to the music on a high end system and most people will hear the difference right away for most songs.

128 AAC does come close to original CD quality on MOST songs, but a discerning listener can tell the difference.

Again, is your HT/stereo system a Home Theater in a Box system? Then buy MP3's and save your money.

If it is even a mid-range system, with appropriate speakers, you will hear the difference. Maybe not at first, but once you get used to AAC, and then go back, you'll notice the difference.
post #34 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Does WalMart have no way for the consumer to remove the DRM by burning to a CD?

burning a music CD and re-ripping to mp3 involves a loss of quality... you loose the quality you PAID for initially.
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post #35 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

DRM doesn't affect me at all. I can play the tracks on all my Macs, my iPhone, and iPod. So the "I hate DRM" excuse is only because you want to steal music or give it away for free. If you really hated DRM, you would go out and buy the CD, which will never have DRM restrictions, for the highest quality reproduction of the music.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

than MPEG3, which is an MP3 file. It's great that you, your wife, and your son are in the business of stealing music or giving it away for free by searching for lousy sounding MP3 files on the internet. That is the only reason why people claim to hate DRM.

Your entire family would be able to enjoy a DRM-encoded song file without any restriction, well, except the fact that you can't give it away to all your friends.

Please get a clue and avoid repeating any of this drivel in future.

1.) MP3 is not MPEG3, it's MPEG1 layer 3

2.) DRM doesn't affect you therefore anyone anti-DRM is a pirate? Bullshit.
  • Ever heard of non-Apple mobile phones? They all play AAC tracks. Oh, but not if they've got Apple's DRM.
  • How about the Sonos multi-room system? That plays AAC files too. Oh, but not if they've got Apple's DRM.
  • Roku SoundBridge? That plays AAC files too. Oh, but not if they've got Apple's DRM.
  • Slim Devices squeezebox? That plays AAC files too. Oh, but not if they've got Apple's DRM.
  • Have you heard of replay gain? It's an algorithm that analyses audio tracks and can then adjust their volume level to a pre-set level (useful so you don't get nasty volume changes when playing tracks at random) the volume adjustment doesn't require converting to PCM and back to a compressed file, it can be performed directly on the AAC (by a utility called AACgain). Oh, but not if the AAC file has Apple's DRM. BTW, Replay gain is vastly superior to Apple's "soundcheck".
  • What about if you want to edit a song, e.g. cut a bit out? Rogue Amoeba's Fission can be used to losslessly edit AACs. Oh, but not if they've got Apple's DRM.
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post #36 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by GregoriusM View Post

256 MP3 is nowhere near the quality of 256 AAC. Listen to it on a decent sound system and you'll know.

Heck, listen to it on my Alpine mid to high end system in my car and it is obvious.

256 MP3 IS in the range of sound quality of a 128 AAC for MOST songs.

Listen to the music on a high end system and most people will hear the difference right away for most songs.

128 AAC does come close to original CD quality on MOST songs, but a discerning listener can tell the difference.

Again, is your HT/stereo system a Home Theater in a Box system? Then buy MP3's and save your money.

If it is even a mid-range system, with appropriate speakers, you will hear the difference. Maybe not at first, but once you get used to AAC, and then go back, you'll notice the difference.

True on all accounts. Good post and I hope others will understand your meaning.
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post #37 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

Sounds like hyperbole, not a credible comparison. I've never heard of anyone else placing the quality of Amazon's files that low.

The comparison usually made is actually AAC 128=MP3 160, AAC 256=MP3 320, and so on.

It also depends on whether we are talking about varible bitrate encoding for either format.

There is also a new MP3 format which is about equal to AAC at the same rate, but I don't know who might be using it yet. I'm also not sure if the same decoders can be used, though it's possible that they would have to be upgraded.

I read about this about a year ago, so I don't remember the details.
post #38 of 66
Just my own opinion here..

I decided years ago that MP3 wasn't worth the effort and now prefer lossless compression formats whenever possible. As for iTunes and the competitors, I buy Fairplay drm'ed AAC tracks from iTunes, and would rather do that than get unprotected MP3 files, even it they're free. I just don't see any reason to eschew the more modern (and superior, imo) AAC format to legacy MP3, even the revised VBR formats. Truth be told, Fairplay drm has been nothing but transparent to me, and as such I opt for the newer codec.

Another problem I have with Amazon etc is that the record labels are actively using them to undermine Apple and iTunes, a fact for which I have considerable contempt. There is no way I'm going to support their efforts to screw Apple over in this manner.
post #39 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by iBill View Post

Another problem I have with Amazon etc is that the record labels are actively using them to undermine Apple and iTunes, a fact for which I have considerable contempt. There is no way I'm going to support their efforts to screw Apple over in this manner.

What's wrong with that?

It's what competition is all about.

We may be Mac users, but that doesn't mean that other companies should like being in the grip of Apple.

While I'm not happy about what the companies are doing because I'm an Apple stockholder, I have to admit that they have the right to want to regain control over their own distribution channels.

As long as what they're doing is legal, they have the right to do it.
post #40 of 66
Quote:
Originally Posted by JavaCowboy View Post

Would this apply only to the U.S., or for other countries as well.

We still don't have the Amazon MP3 store in Canada Guess the RIAA doesn't want my business....

It is up to Amazon to make the deal with each company individually, not the association. Just like Apple has with EMI.
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