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Apple Expands DRM-Free Catalog

Cupertino, Calif. — Apple raised the number of downloadable DRM-free songs to more than 2 million and dropped the price of the unprotected downloads to $0.99 from $1.29.

The company, however, didn’t change the $0.99 price of its protected downloads, which are encoded at lower quality than the unprotected songs, in a move that might have been intended to put pressure on other music labels to make their songs DRM-free. In fact, an Apple spokesman said the price reduction on protected songs were not in response to the $0.89 to $0.99 prices on unprotected MP3 downloads from Amazon or a response to Wal-Mart’s announced plans to offer some unprotected songs at $0.94.

Apple’s DRM-free 256kbps files, encoded at a higher data rate than the company’s protected songs, are said by Apple to be “virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings.” The DRM-free collection now includes tunes from multiple independent labels and an expanded selection from EMI, which was the first record label to offer DRM-free music on iTunes in May with 150,000 songs, an Apple spokesman said. The independent labels offering DRM-free music through Apple include Sub Pop, Nettwerk, Beggars Group, IODA, The Orchard and others.

Apple’s catalog of protected and unprotected AAC-format songs now totals more than 6 million, the company said.

Other companies selling unprotected music downloads include eMusic, which sells unprotected music in the MP3 format from independent artists such as Paul McCarthy, and Music Giants, which sells protected and unprotected music in WMA lossless.