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Best Buy, Universal Join DRM-Free Jam

Universal Music Group will make some of its music available without digital rights management (DRM) software, and Best Buy has announced plans to sell it.

Through its Digital Music Store, which is powered by RealNetworks’ Rhapsody music, Best Buy will sell Universal's DRM-free music for the same price customers would pay for DRM-protected music. Customers can purchase songs for $.99 per song, or they can subscribe to unlimited music listening for $14.99 per month with the option to buy at $.89 per track.

“Our customers have shared their frustration around interoperability, multiple formats and DRM issues, and we have listened,” Best Buy vice president of music Jennifer Schaidler said in a statement.

Universal isn't the first major label to experiment with DRM-free music. In April, EMI announced it would make its digital-music catalog available to online retailers without DRM restrictions. Apple, the first retailer to sign up for EMI's music, began selling EMI's catalog DRM-free from the iTunes store in May.

That same month, e-commerce giant Amazon joined the movement, announcing plans to launch a DRM-free digital music store. Amazon 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.

Not too long ago, some in the industry considered DRM the only viable way to prevent illegal copying of digital content.

When the government of France threatened to force Apple to decode its DRM software in 2006, the company warned that "legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers." Apple even accused France of "state-sponsored piracy."

But a lot can change in less than a year. Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote an open letter in February calling for music labels to stop selling music encrypted with DRM software.

"Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open-licensable formats," Jobs said in an essay posted to Apple's Web site.

"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."

Still, some aren't so sure DRM is going away any time soon.

In a recent report called "Digital Rights Management Update," In-Stat analyst Mike Paxton wrote that DRM is likely to proliferate due to the amount of digital content flowing over telecommunications networks, as well as the rate at which it's growing.

"Much of this content is already protected by some type of DRM or content-protection scheme," Paxton said.

"As the creation of digital content expands, it is, in turn, fueling demand for more DRM solutions and content protection technologies."