This week Apple started selling songs without piracy protection, calling it iTunes Plus. They had made a deal with one recording label, EMI, to offer this. EMI made the same deal with other companies so, while some people are saying Steve Jobs pushed EMI into the decision, I don’t know if that is true. The new songs will cost $1.29 instead of the standard $0.99 (Jobs had previously insisted on the $0.99 price for all songs). But to sweeten the offer the songs are also recorded at a higher quality level (meaning the files are bigger).
Supposedly more labels will be offering the same deal by the end of the year, but again, I’m not so sure the recording industry wants to accept taking copy protection off of songs. Jobs says people can buy CD’s that have no copy protection, so why should music people buy online need it? Also, Apple is having trouble in other countries that are worried about the dominance of iPods and iTunes creating a monopoly. And since iTunes doesn’t support other companies’ copy protection and iTunes purchases won’t play on other devices, they might have a point. Some countries have said Apple must provide music without copy protection (which the labels haven’t wanted to do) or share their copy protection software (which Apple hasn’t wanted to do).
A few years ago I had a trial membership to eMusic. They are like iTunes but for mostly very small music labels. They offer all of their music without copy protection. I got about 50 songs from them that I could play on any MP3 player, including my iPod. These files were just like ones I would make from my own CD’s. So any songs available on eMusic will probably go along with the iTunes Plus scheme.
Anyway, Apple has offered people who have bought EMI songs a chance to upgrade their old copy-protected songs for the new format by only paying the difference in price of 30 cents per song. I had checked out a list of EMI artists which included Frank Sinatra, Iggy Pop, Liz Phair, and The Beach Boys, who all had songs I had bought. To get the new songs, I had to upgrade iTunes again by downloading a 30 GB installer, which is at least the 15th time I’ve upgraded iTunes.
Once I upgraded the software, I visited the store and found the iTunes Plus link. I was given a list of songs I could upgrade. There were 13 songs out of over 200 that I have bought from iTunes that I could upgrade. And not the ones I thought. Frank Sinatra, Iggy Pop, and Liz Phair must have recorded the songs I bought on other labels (they move around). Plus I had others available that weren’t in the list of EMI artists, including Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music, Everclear, and Fat Boy Slim. I don’t know if EMI owns those others or if they just chose to participate. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music are with Virgin Records, which probably isn’t part of EMI. I upgraded all 13 for $3.90. All but one downloaded correctly (though it took all night due to the larger size of the songs). Maybe that $3.90 will encourage the other 93% of record companies to make the switch too.
I can’t test the songs on my iPod since it has gone missing. But I did want to see if I could play the songs in Winamp, my favorite MP3 software on the PC (iTunes takes too long to start up and is too complicated for quick use). It didn’t! It turns out that I was running the Lite version of Winamp and I had to upgrade it to the Full version (also free) to play Apple’s .m4a songs. Because these are not mp3 files, they won’t play on my Palm with the software I have right now, so it isn’t quite as insanely great as eMusic.