The major UK music label EMI is preparing to sell music MP3s online without DRM (digital rights management), according to reports.
The rumours come in the wake of Apple boss Steve Jobs' plea to major labels to drop DRM and the historic resolution of the trademark dispute between Apple Corps and Apple Inc.
If it goes ahead, the move will add to the growing evidence of a rift between the major labels as they attempt to develop a successful strategy for selling music in the digital age.
Citing a report in The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press reports EMI to have been in discussion with online music retailers about "possibly selling its entire digital music catalogue in MP3 format without copy protection".
The report says multiple sources are making the claim. As Jobs explained earlier this week, selling music in an open format would usher in a truly interoperable age and help legal music stores compete equally with pirate services.
Sales of unprotected tracks through legitimate services have become commonplace in the independent label sector. Online music services eMusic, Wippit and 7 Digital all offer a range of indie label tracks in MP3 format, without DRM.
The report claims EMI has been in contact with online music vendors asking them what advance payments they would offer in exchange for the right to sell tracks in MP3 format. A decision on the strategy could be made as soon as today, the report explains.
The company has released a few singles in MP3 format through some services, including tracks by Norah Jones, Lily Allen and Relient K. EMI reports this trial engendered "very positive" results.
The news also emerges as rumours intensify that music from The Beatles - music currently exclusively available only through pirate services - will be made available through iTunes soon.
The news also comes as Apple faces pressure from some quarters - including the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) - to license its DRM system to others in order to create more interoperability between services and devices.
Jobs has rejected such demands as posing a huge security risk, and points out that DRM is only applied to music sold through iTunes at the behest of the majors.
Jobs' critics point out that at present it's impossible for independent labels and other rights holders to choose to sell their music without DRM through the iTunes Store. They imply that the application of such systems should be made voluntary when a label submits a track for inclusion in the store.
It's a different story at EMI's former potential merge partner, the Edgar J Bronfman-led Warner Music Group. Bronfman this week responded to Jobs' call for interoperability by slamming his proposals as "completely without logic or merit".
Bronfman insists that DRM is vital to the survival of his business. Warner reported a 74 per cent year-on-year decline in profits in its last quarter.
For more iPod and iTunes news, visit www.macworld.co.uk/ipod-itunes.