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Amazon To Sell DRM-Free Music

Amazon.com  turned up the buzz meter in the digital music world today with news it plans to launch an MP3 digital music store without digital rights management  restrictions on the songs.

It said it plans to offer DRM-free MP3 format songs from more than 12,000 record labels, starting with EMI Music's digital catalog as the latest addition to the store, in a launch later this year.

The news puts to rest the rumors circulating for years about whether Amazon.com would enter the digital music fray, and builds on a growing backlash over DRM restrictions that limit how consumers can use the songs they purchase on stores such as Apple's iTunes.

Without the DRM lock, users will be able to play their music on any music device they choose, such as Zunes, iPods and Zens, as well as burn CDs for personal use, Amazon's CEO and Founder, Jeff Bezos, said in statement today.

"We're excited to have EMI joining us in this effort and look forward to offering our customers MP3s from amazing artists like Coldplay, Norah Jones and Joss Stone."

Take that, iTunes.

Actually, Apple and EMI are offering a similar deal after announcing last month EMI's DRM-free songs on the iTunes store. You're just out of luck if you want to use it with anything other than the iPod media player.

Pricing on Apple's iTunes for the DRM-free tracks is $1.29, encoded at a higher rate of 256kbps, but in the AAC format for Apple's iPod devices. That's a bit higher than the usual 128kbps AAC rate for the 99 cent songs on iTunes.

With Amazon.com throwing its weight behind a DRM-free format that lets users burn the tunes to their CDs and on devices they choose, the eCommerce giant is helping to remove hurdles that DRM creates for users, such as different file formats, noted Gartner's Mike McGuire, a vice president of media research.

Plus, Amazon.com, with its highly regarded system of recommendations, could have some advantage against Apple's yet-unchallenged iTunes.

Amazon.com has "a very good collaborative-filtering/algorithmic recommendation system ('others who bought this book also bought' and 'Amazon recommends') that will provide a significant amount of consumer-taste-sharing and taste-matching that could be particularly compelling to consumers," he told internetnews.com.

"Another advantage: They've done a tremendous amount to advance the art and science of creating frictionless online commerce transactions. However, in the end, they have to create a seamless and compelling online music search-recommendation-purchase experience.

"At the moment, iTunes is the standard they have to surpass -- not their own online system for book or CD purchases."

Even Apple's Steve Jobs has called for all music retailers and publishers to offer DRM-free music.

"In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat," he wrote in an essay last February.

Amazon.com was coy on pricing for now, and wouldn't provide any detail on the date of its launch. But the news was enough to get investors geared up. Shares of Amazon.com gained 2.64 (4.36 percent) to close at $63.22 during the regular trading session today.