Apple Inc. met its self-imposed deadline, if just barely, by updating iTunes to Version 7.2 and putting tracks and albums free of copy protection up for sale Wednesday.
The new version of iTunes for Mac and Windows unveiled what Apple called "iTunes Plus," music stripped of the copy protection or digital rights management (DRM) that normally locks music to a particular type of player device or limits the number of computers that can play the tracks. Previously, Apple had promised that the unrestricted tunes would go on sale before the end of this month.
The iTunes Plus tracks, which are encoded at 256Kbit/sec., twice the bit rate of the usual 128Kbit/sec. iTunes music, are priced at US$1.29 each. Tunes with DRM continue to sell for $0.99 cents apiece. There is no difference on album prices between DRM-free and with-DRM music, however.
Not all iTunes' offerings are available in the option DRM-free Plus format. Out the gate, only EMI Group PLC -- which carries artists and groups including Nora Jones, Coldplay, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd -- offered music without copy protection.
"We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a statement.
Apple first brought up the idea of DRM-free music in February, when Jobs issued an open letter asking the major recording labels to abandon digital copy protection. Last month, EMI became the first to heed the call and announced that it would drop DRM on the tracks it offers through iTunes.
ITunes customers can also upgrade their existing music inventory to DRM-free versions for $0.30 each, or $3 per album.
After downloading and installing iTunes 7.2, users must enable the iTunes Plus option in their accounts before they can preview or purchase DRM-free tracks.