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Universal to go DRM free

Following the lead of major label rival EMI, Universal Music is set to start offering DRM-free downloads through a variety of online retailers - but apparently not through iTunes. The New York Times has reported that Universal will be the second major label to try out DRM-free music, through a trial that will see its unencumbered tracks available through retailers such as Google Music, Wal-Mart, Real Networks and Amazon.

It's reported that Universal is saying that the DRM-free sales will be on a trial period up until the first quarter of 2008, however it is not clear if Universal will follow the lead of EMI and place the DRM-free downloads in the market at a higher price-point than its other DRM encumbered tracks.

The move also seems designed to continue to place pressure on Apple's in the ongoing dispute between Universal and Apple over royalties from iTunes and iPods. Back in June Universal told Apple that it wouldn't renew its agreement with iTunes to sell music through the online store for another year and would sell at will, allowing the major to potentially pull out of iTunes at any time. The DRM-free announcement seems designed to turn up the heat on Apple to reach a settlement on royalties.

The news is particularly good for Amazon who announced in April that it was going to launch a DRM-free record store, but with only EMI's DRM-free content to work with to date, the online mega-retailer was looking like it was going to enter the digital music space with a pretty mediocre offering. The news is also great for consumers, by leaving iTunes out of the loop for the minute, competitors to the dominant service may get a chance to catch up on a small piece of the market, thus increasing competition and hopefully providing more options for the digital music buying public.

[Via the New York Times]

Tags: amazon real networks wal mart, AmazonRealNetworksWalMart, drm free, DrmFree, ipod, universal