Universal Music Group Spreads DRM-Free, Spites iTunes

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Universal Music Group is now triggering a multi-month, DRM-free  download experiment, a significant step that follows a similar move by EMI.

But unlike EMI, Universal is leaving iTunes out of the fun, and playing a dicey strategic game in the process.

Just recently, the mega-label indicated that it would soon offer portions of its catalog DRM-free to a number of online outlets, including Rhapsody, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and even Google.  But the iTunes Store is not being handed the same luxury, a move that follows a period of dissatisfaction with the online retailing giant.

In a discussion Thursday, an executive at RealNetworks confirmed that portions of the Universal Music Group catalog will be positioned on Rhapsody starting August 21st, and continuing through January.  Those tracks will be playable on iPods and a broad number of other players, according to the source.  The executive also noted that songs from 50 Cent, Amy Winehouse, Johnny Cash, and a long list of others will be offered as MP3s, and sold at the same price as protected songs.  Tracks will be encoded in 256kbps quality.

Universal Music Group is expected to release more information in the near future, though the Rhapsody experiment is likely to resemble rollouts by rival retailers.