Apple rolls out copy protection-free iTunes

An undated screenshot of iTunes Plus. Apple Inc. said it launched iTunes Plus, a digital rights management-free music download service, for $1.29 per song. REUTERS/Courtesy of Apple/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apple Inc. said on Wednesday it launched iTunes Plus, a new copy protection-free music download service featuring artists with EMI Group including Coldplay, The Rolling Stones and Joss Stone.

The music download service will operate alongside the existing iTunes, which offers around five million songs at 99 cents per song, but with copy restriction software known as digital rights management (DRM).

Apple’s founder Steve Jobs called on the music industry to allow online retailers like iTunes to sell digital songs without restrictions to give the fledgling digital music sector a boost and to give consumers what they want.

Copy protection software like Apple’s Fairplay prevents unauthorized copying of a digital song bought from the iTunes Music Store, but also restricts the owner to listening to the song on an Apple iPod digital media player or a computer equipped with iTunes software.

EMI said in April that it would allow retailers to sell its music without protection with its first partner being Apple. Earlier this month EMI said it would also work with online retailer Inc..

To date, EMI is the only major music company to agree to drop DRM. Other record companies including Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group have said they are testing the impact of dropping DRM on digital music sales.

Separately, Apple said it will also offer educational materials from universities on its new iTunes U service.

Shares in Apple closed up 3.9 percent or $4.42 to end at $118.77 after an analyst note from WR Hambrecht & Co. upgraded Apple to a price target of $125.

Reporting by Yinka Adegoke in New York and Anup Roy in Bangalore