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Thursday, March 03, 2011, 11:00 pm PT (02:00 am ET)

Apple negotiating for repeat downloads of iTunes music purchases

Apple is in negotiations with the major record labels to allow repeat downloads for music purchased through the iTunes Music Store, according to a new report.

According to people familiar with the matter, Apple is in talks with music companies, including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI Group, to change its download policy to provide greater flexibility to iTunes customers, Bloomberg said on Thursday.

An updated agreement, which sources said could come as early as the middle of this year, would allow users to re-download purchased music, even after losing the original copies. Currently, Apple's iTunes Music Store does not offer free re-downloads of previously purchased music.

The service would allow downloads to iPads, iPhones and iPods linked to the same iTunes account, the report claimed, adding that such a move would be "a step closer to universal access to content centrally stored on the Internet." Apple has also "weighed plans" to revamp its MobileMe online storage service later this year, said one source.

Rumors of a centralized streaming media service from Apple through iTunes and MobileMe have persisted for years, gaining strength on news that Apple planned to spend over $1 billion on a massive data center in North Carolina.

Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer revealed last month that the center will indeed be used for iTunes and MobileMe when it opens this spring. The server farm had originally been slated for completion by the end of 2010.

One recent report has suggested that Apple is planning a MobileMe digital online "locker" that would grant users access to their files, while a separate rumor claimed that iTunes media would be stored on a home computer and streamed over the Internet to connected devices.

Over the years, Apple has sought to leverage its continued success with the iTunes Music Store to negotiate more favorable contracts with the record companies. For example, Apple was successful in reaching a deal to remove DRM copy protections from iTunes music purchases in exchange for a variable pricing model.

More recently, Apple negotiated the extension of iTunes music previews from 30 seconds to 90 seconds.