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Madonna’s DRM free MP3s on Amazon soon

Today, Warner Music Group began selling music on Amazon in the MP3 format without the digital rights management that hampers many of the files sold in iTunes and other online music stores.

Listening Post confirmed with spokespeople for both Amazon and Universal Music Group that the deal includes all of the label’s digitized music catalog — “hundreds of thousands of tracks,” according to WMG. Amazon’s store now contains over 2.9 million tracks, all in the unprotected MP3 format, and including music from three of the world’s four major labels. (EMI began offering its digital catalog to Amazon in May, and Universal has experimented with MP3s on Amazon since August.)

The WMG spokesperson also confirmed that the label did not include watermarks in the MP3 files the way Universal Music Group did. (UMG included anonymous watermarks on the MP3s it delivered to Amazon, used to track purchased MP3s online.)

“We believe that giving consumers the assurance that the music they purchase can be played on any device they own will only encourage more sales of music,” said Michael Nash, SVP of digital strategy and business development for Warner Music Group.

This is good news for music fans who have been reluctant to buy music that only plays on certain devices, but it may not be good news for Apple. Despite Steve Jobs’ February plea to the labels that they stop insisting on DRM, Apple has likely benefited to some degree from iTunes’ unique ability to offer music from the most popular labels (the majors) that plays on the most popular MP3 players (iPods).

Jobs refused to license Fair Play to competing third-party music stores, writing, “Apple has concluded that if it licenses FairPlay to others, it can no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the big four music companies.”

An industry-wide abandonment of DRM would allow other music download retailers to compete, but Apple’s music business could expand nonetheless. As DRM goes away, the digital music market could grow so much that Apple’s slice would get bigger, even if its share diminishes.

With only 5 days to go, 2007 became the year that 3 of the 4 major labels started selling music in the MP3 format. Sony/BMG is the only remaining holdout.

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