Apple Cuts Deal For DRM-Free iTunes Downloads, Finally

Apple is throwing iTunes users a bone, but they might have to pay a little bit more for it. According to top secret insiders, Apple has cut a deal with the three largest music labels that will allow iTunes to offer songs free of copy protection (digital rights management) software -- but in exchange, they've had to make concessions to the labels about making hit songs a little pricier.

Apple has been offering DRM-free downloads of EMI songs for more than a year, but the new arrangement will extend to all songs from Sony BMG, Universal and Warner Music. When the new policy goes into effect, users will not be restricted on the number of devices onto which they can upload and use purchased songs or the number of times they can burn them onto CDs.

New music will be free of the software, and Apple and the labels will begin removing DRM from music already available in the iTunes catalog. No word on what will happen with songs that have already been bought. But there's always a catch, and this time it's in your wallet: in order to get rid of DRM, iTunes had to give in to some of the labels' demands on increased pricing.

In the new set-up there will be three categories: older songs, midline songs (new tracks that aren't big hits) and current hits. The good news is that those older songs will only cost you .79 cents. The bad news is we don't know how much the biggest hits will cost yet -- it's up to the labels. Of course, those tracks will eventually drop to 79 cents, if you can live without downloading them until a little bit past their prime.

These deals -- which also included provisions for iPhone owners to download songs straight to their mobiles -- were closed last week, and could be formally announced as early as today at the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francicsco.

Apple Cuts Deal For DRM-Free iTunes Downloads, Finally