New York (August 13, 2007)–Universal Music Group will sell DRM-free albums and tracks by many of its artists as a six-month experiment, from August 21 through January 31, 2008. While UMG becomes the second major label to go DRM-free, following EMI, the test is widely seen to be an open jab at Apple, as the label will allow the MP3s to be sold for 99 cents each by Amazon, Rhapsody, Best Buy and artists’ websites–but not via iTunes. In a slip-up, UMG’s announcement also mentioned that Google was licensed to sell the DRM-Free music files–an accidental disclosure that led to an early announcement that Google is ramping up a new service, gBox.
The overtones to the announcement are hard to miss; UMG and Apple have been warring through an ongoing renegotiation of UMG’s contract to sell music via iTunes–a sparring match that ultimately ended (for now) with UMG settling for a ‘day to day’ continuation of their current agreement. That may change if the experiment is a success. The DRM-free tunes will mark the first time that UMG’s music can be downloaded legally from non-iTunes sources and be playable on an iPod, the leading digital music player. UMG reportedly will examine its sales of unprotected MP3 tracks versus sales of its tracks at iTunes–which will remain protected, and the results could very well give the music label some handy leverage against Apple as their negotiations continue.
When UMG announced late last week that Google was also licensed to sell the MP3s–and the internet search giant doesn’t currently offer music storefront–it wasn’t long before the company had to announce that it will debut gBox on August 21. The service is not a traditional internet music storefront, however; Google users who do a search for a UMG act’s name will be served an ad–purchased by UMG–which would take them to a site where they can purchase the act’s music. gBox will only get a typical advertising fee for the referral, not a cut of sales.
Universal Music Group