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Monday, December 08, 2008, 03:35 pm PT (06:35 pm ET)

Rumor: Apple's iTunes going DRM-free starting Tuesday [u]

Apple is believed to be on the verge of an end-of-year push that would start by finally offering unprotected iTunes Store music from all major labels and would switch a special post-holiday campaign giving away music and videos to Europeans.

A report from last week brought to AppleInsider's attention by French technology site ElectronLibre asserts that it's now "clear" Apple will spark new interest in its music store by removing DRM from tracks published by Sony, Universal and Warner on December 9th.

The site doesn't point to specific sources but is careful to note that Apple is moving cautiously on the matter following difficult negotiations that allegedly had the labels hoping to negotiate what EMI had done for the launch of iTunes Plus in 2007, when it successfully negotiated prices higher before ultimately agreeing to reduce the price to Apple's standard 99 cents. Labels had also been hoping to switch from a monthly reporting of iTunes sales stats to live data, the earlier story suggests.

Talks between Apple and the remaining three labels may have been corroborated by a previous CNet story which also mentioned ongoing discussions that would let Apple switch to music without FairPlay restrictions.

Shoppers themselves have also noticed songs briefly selling unprotected that weren't either from EMI or independents.

More recently, the same site also believes Apple will quickly follow up the move with a promo campaign nicknamed the "12 Days of iTunes" that will let shoppers in France, Germany and the UK download an "unlimited" amount of content just after Christmas.

Running from the 26th through to January 6th, the formal debut of Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the campaign would tie into local radio stations and news outlets and would make a point of offering big-name content. Lily Allen and James Blunt songs will supposedly be offered in addition to an episode of Spongebob Squarepants and other videos.

Although Apple gives away content on a regular basis, a daily giveaway would be rare for the company, which usually limits offerings to once a week and to less high-profile content. The timing nonetheless implies a campaign meant to soften the drop in downloads after Christmas.

Readers should treat ElectronLibre's claims as rumor given the uncertainty of whether Apple is participating in any negotiations at all. However, the page is known to have accurately leaked the launch of French iTunes TV shows and so has established a brief track record.

Update: CNet News.com claims that ElectronLibre's report is untrue and that it's unlikely DRM-free tracks from the three remaining labels will turn up on iTunes before the end of the year.