- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon.com plans to open an online music store offering songs that are free of copy-protection technology and can be played on anything from PCs to portable gadgets such as Apple’s IPod or Microsoft’s Zune.

The Internet retailer decided to steer clear of digital-rights management (DRM) technology because consumers want to be able to listen to their music on any device they choose, executives said yesterday.

The market-leading IPod, for instance, can’t play copy-protected music bought from Napster or RealNetworks Inc.’s Rhapsody store. A Zune can’t play tunes bought on ITunes. All players support music in the MP3 format.

Amazon’s strategy “is helping to pave the way for a much better, much more customer-centric experience in digital music,” said Bill Carr, Amazon’s vice president of digital media.

Shares of Amazon rose $2.64, or more than 4 percent, to $63.22 yesterday, toward the high end of the company’s stock price over the past year.

Amazon’s music store wasn’t unexpected, and the company is tearing a page out of Apple Inc.’s songbook by offering music that’s not locked down by digital-rights management technology.

Like Apple’s ITunes Store, Amazon will offer DRM-free songs from Britain’s EMI Music Group PLC. Amazon also said it will offer millions of tunes from 12,000 unnamed labels. Apple, however, will continue to sell copy-protected tunes.

Amazon said it would announce more labels when the service starts later this year, but it did not name a date.

Songs will be sold by the track or album, without a subscription option. Amazon didn’t provide prices.

Apple plans to charge $1.29 for tracks without DRM — 30 cents more than copy-protected songs. It also said the pricier tunes would feature enhanced sound quality.

Mr. Carr said Amazon has always focused on giving customers good bargains and hinted that music will be offered at various prices.

“We have a track record of being very competitive on price and offering very low prices to customers,” he said. “We also have a track record of offering a wide range of price points on our products, too. There’s not one or two or three price points on our CD store today — there are many, many different price points.”

Last month, EMI agreed to let Apple sell tracks without the copy-protection technology on its ITunes Store. Apple has yet to begin selling the EMI tracks but has said it would make them available on ITunes sometime this month.

Earlier this year, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs called on the world’s four major record companies, including EMI, to start selling songs online without copy-protection software.

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