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Tuesday, April 3, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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EMI sings new iTunes sharing song

The Associated Press

LONDON — Breaking from the rest of the recording industry, EMI Group said Monday it will begin selling songs online that are free of copy-protection technology through Apple's iTunes Store.

The deal, however, doesn't include music from the label's biggest act, The Beatles.

iTunes customers will be able to buy songs by the Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Coldplay and other top-selling artists for $1.29, or 30 cents more than the copy-protected version. The premium tunes also will be offered in a higher quality than the 99-cent tracks.

EMI Chief Executive Eric Nicoli said The Beatles music catalog is excluded from the deal but said the company was "working on it."

He declined to set a time frame.

The announcement followed calls by Apple CEO Steve Jobs this year for EMI and the world's three other major record companies to start selling songs online without copy-protection software.

The technology, known as digital-rights management, or DRM, tries to combat piracy by preventing unauthorized copying or sharing.

But it also can be a consumer headache. Some music players, for instance, support one type of DRM software but not others.

The DRM used by Apple does not work with competing services or devices, meaning consumers can only download songs from iTunes to work on their computers or iPod music players.

The lock between the download services and players has drawn criticism from European industry regulators, who argue it limits buyer choice.

"Doing the right thing for the customer going forward is to tear down the walls that impede interoperability," Jobs told reporters in London.

He has previously argued there was little benefit to record companies selling more than 90 percent of their music without DRM on compact discs, then selling the remaining percentage online with DRM.

Some analysts suggest that lifting the software restrictions could boost sales of online music, which account for around 10 percent of global music sales.

"Consumers tell us overwhelmingly that they would be prepared to pay a higher price for digital music that they could use on any player," Nicoli said. "It is key to unlocking and energizing the digital-music business."

The iTunes music store will begin offering EMI's catalog without DRM software starting next month, he said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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