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Friday, January 04, 2008, 10:40 am PT (01:40 pm ET)

Last of the "big four" labels to offer DRM-free music tracks

Record labels are remaining on the offensive when it comes to battling iPod maker Apple Inc. for revenue share in the digital music business, with word spreading that Sony BMG will soon join the ranks of other major labels in offering its catalog through some online retailers stripped of copy protection measures.

Citing people familiar with the matter, BusinessWeek clams Sony BMG Music Entertainment is finalizing plans to make at least part of its collection available without so-called digital rights management (DRM) software some time in the first quarter of this year.

The move would see Sony BMG become the last of the top four music labels to drop DRM, following word from Warner Music Group in late December that it also plans loosen its grip and sell DRM-free songs through Amazon.com's digital music store. EMI and Vivendi's Universal Music Group both announced their plans for DRM-free downloads last year.

The concessions also represent an about-face for the recording industry, which for the better part of the digital age has resorted to DRM to protect its catalogs from widespread piracy over peer-to-peer and other Internet file sharing networks.

"In abandoning DRM on à la carte song purchases, the labels could create a raft of new, less restrictive ways of selling music over the Internet, such as through social networks like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace," BW went on to speculate in its report. "Partnerships with retailers such as Amazon could also help the music industry take a swipe at Apple, which has come to dominate the legal download market through a one-size-fits-all pricing scheme record labels find restrictive."

The business mag said further details of Sony BMG's plans are expected to emerge in the coming weeks, adding that Justin Timberlake, the popular recording artist signed to the Sony-owned Jive label, is participating in a Super Bowl promotion with Pepsi that will kick off Feb. 3 and offer free distribution of 1 billion songs from major labels, including Sony BMG, through Amazon's DRM-free download service.