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iTunes: Apple's music store is going DRM-free

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Ituneslogo_lOne of the big rumors heading into 2009’s Macworld Conference and Expo today — second only to the “MacBook Wheel,” which is sadly not real — said that Apple is about to really shake things up at iTunes. According to an anonymously sourced report on CNET.com yesterday, there were two major changes coming. First, Apple has supposedly struck a deal with all of the major music labels to offer 100 percent DRM-free downloads. (“DRM” stands for “digital rights management,” a.k.a. “copy protection,” and it’s the reason you currently can’t share most of the MP3s you buy from the iTunes Music Store with your friends.) In return, the labels have reportedly convinced Apple to make its $0.99/track price point a little more flexible — so you might have to pay, say, a dollar and change for that new in-demand hit, but only $0.79 for an old catalog tune that no one else is looking for.

A rep for Apple hasn’t gotten back to me to confirm, deny, or clarify anything. But both of these changes, if they’re real, have been a long time coming. Apple took a step in this direction in ’07, when it started selling MP3s from label conglomerate EMI in DRM-free form for $1.29 under their “iTunes Plus” program; the general perception has been that Apple would have liked to do the same for all their MP3s, but the other labels balked ’til now.

So while we wait for some more solid details to emerge, we might as well start figuring out how we feel about all this. How happy will you be if iTunes starts letting you download clean, DRM-free files? And would you be willing to spend a little more on Taylor Swift’s new single if it means you can share it with whomever you like? Or do you like things just fine the way they are, copy protection and all?

TUESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: It’s official. Apple just announced the iTunes changes at Macworld. CNET pretty much nailed it — as of this spring there will be no more DRM, with a $0.69/$1.29 price point for older/newer tracks.

More on iTunes and digital music:
iTunes was No. 1 on EW’s 25 Best Music Websites
NBC and iTunes worked out their differences last fall
PopWatch was dispelling rumors of a new variable-pricing scheme three years ago
We weighed in on the iTunes Plus news in ’07