Wal-Mart dumping DRM

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Wal-Mart Stores said Tuesday that it has begun selling digital music downloads on its Web site without the customary digital rights management copy-protection technology.

The world's largest retailer will offer its new MP3 music catalog of thousands of albums and songs from acts including the Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse and Maroon 5 for 94 cents per track or $9.22 per album.

It said the new format lets customers play music on almost any device, including iPods, iPhones and Microsoft's Zune portable media player.

The move puts Wal-Mart in closer competition with Apple Inc., whose iTunes online music store is the third-largest music retailer in the U.S. In May, Apple launched iTunes Plus, a copy-protection-free music download service.

The announcement comes as major record labels debate whether dropping DRM will hurt digital music sales or encourage piracy.

Copy protection software prevents unauthorized copying of a digital song bought from an online store, but it also limits where an owner can listen to it.

Universal Music Group, the world's largest music label, said this month that it was testing the sale of songs without copy-protection software. EMI Group also has agreed to drop DRM.

In other digital music news:

London-based 7digital has become the first digital media delivery company to make available EMI's Rolling Stones catalog as DRM-free MP3s.

The 24 albums are delivered at the high-quality 320 kbps rate and will exclusively retail at 7digital.com for the next four weeks at a special price point of £5.49 ($11) each. After the promotion expires, the albums will cost £7.99 ($16) to download.

The albums date from 1971's "Sticky Fingers," the first studio release after the Stones left Decca, and continue through to 2005's "A Bigger Bang."

All 7digital output can be played on any MP3 device.

With label Interscope loosening the DRM shackles, Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am launched a digital music store on his Web site Tuesday, making all digital tunes sold free of copy protection.

The new service is powered by Musicane, for which will.i.am also serves as head of marketing.

The launch coincides with the release of his solo single "I Got It From My Mama," on Interscope. Fans also can preorder his solo album, "Songs About Girls," scheduled for Sept. 25.
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