Napster Goes DRM-Free on Downloads, MP3s Ahead

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Napster has struggled outside of an iPod+iTunes ecosystem, in part because of format incompatibilities.

As the iPod effortlessly careened past 100 million units, the reincarnated Napster languished within a highly problematic, and frustratingly obscure, PlaysForSure network.

Now, Napster is ready to kiss that jagged history goodbye – at least on the download side.  Just this morning, the company indicated that its entire catalog would soon be offered DRM-free, part of a larger industry move away from content protection.  Napster noted that its “entire download sales catalog” is being transitioned – meaning that all four majors are being included in the move.

Major label buy-in appears spotty at the moment, though Napster confidently pointed to a formal launch in the second quarter.  Specifically, tracks will be offered as MP3s, perhaps the polar opposite of protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) files.  The move does not apply to subscription-based content, considered a bread-and-butter component of the Napster offering.  Instead, subscription-based music will remain locked within PCs and PlaysForSure-compatible devices, and excluded from the iPod and iPhone.