Music content owners consider dropping DRM technology

Some major record labels are now considering the release of commercial music on the Internet with no copy protection.

Executives of several technology companies have told the "New York Times" that at least one of the four major record companies could move toward the sale of unrestricted digital files in the MP3 format within a matter of months.

Independent record labels already sell tracks digitally compressed in the MP3 format. These files, which include no digital rights management (DRM) technology, can be downloaded, e-mailed or copied to CD. They can also be played on virtually any music player, including Apple's iPod.

For major recording companies, which have been weary of easily shared MP3 files, however, providing music in that format is not an option. Until last year, the industry was counting on online purchases of music using DRM, led by Apple's iTunes music store, to make up the difference in the declining sales of compact discs.

CD sales continue to decline, however, and file downloads of copy-protected music have not made up the difference. In desperation, the music companies are rethinking the positions.

Unrestricted copies could be sold as singles or through subscription services or made freely available on Internet sites that support advertising.

Another factor is a growing frustration with proprietary formats. In some European countries, especially France, consumer frustration has led to government proposals to legislate interoperability.