British music giant EMI Group, home of The Rolling Stones and Coldplay, has been talking with online retailers about possibly selling its entire digital music catalogue in MP3 format without copy protection, it is reported today.
The MP3 format, which can be freely copied and played on virtually any device, would allow consumers to play music purchased from any online store on any digital music device.
Currently, music purchased at Apple’s iTunes Store, for example, is wrapped in Apple’s proprietary version of Digital Rights Management technology known as “FairPlay” and can be played only on the company’s iPod devices.
Songs purchased from rival online stores that carry different DRM technology cannot be played on iPods, causing many to wonder whether it might be hampering sales.
The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said London-based EMI had asked the retailers to submit proposals by yesterday, telling the company what size advance payments they would offer in exchange for the right to sell EMI’s music as MP3s.
One of the unidentified sources said EMI would decide whether to forge ahead with the strategy based on the size of the offers. A decision about whether to keep pursuing the idea could come as soon as today, the Journal said.
When asked about the report, EMI spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer said: “We’re not commenting on speculation.”
Earlier this week, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs called on record labels to abandon their requirement for online music to use DRM, which is designed to limit unauthorised copying.
Jobs said such restrictions had done little to slow music piracy and eliminating them would open up the online music marketplace.
One person familiar with the matter told the Journal that several major music companies had floated the idea of scrapping copy protections, but none appeared to have gone as far as EMI, and some maintained that copy-protection software was critical to stop piracy.
EMI is the world’s third-largest music company by sales and home to acts ranging from The Beatles to the Beastie Boys. But some of its performers - notably including The Beatles – do not yet sell their music in any digital form.
EMI has experimented with releasing singles in the DRM-free MP3 format. In the past few months, the company has released tracks by Norah Jones, Lily Allen and the band Relient K.
Meyer said: “The results of those experiments were very positive, and the fan feedback has been very enthusiastic.”