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Apple, record labels head for negotiating table

This time around, fresh off EMI's decision to sell DRM-free tracks on iTunes, should be an interesting back-and-forth between Apple and the music industry.

It's time once again for negotiations to begin between Apple and the record labels, but things are a little more interesting on this go-round because of Apple's recent deal with EMI.

Apple's Steve Jobs and EMI's Eric Nicoli discuss the companies' DRM-free tracks last month.

For years, record companies have been trying to get Apple CEO Steve Jobs to raise the price of individual songs sold through the iTunes Store, but Jobs has stuck fast to the 99-cent fee, The Associated Press reports. Last month, however, that stance changed with plans to make versions of songs from EMI's artists available for $1.29.

The catch? Those songs have to be free of digital-rights management technology, which is loathed by consumers but loved by the music industry as part of their attempts to put an end to music trading. While EMI jumped onto this plan, it's not clear that the other labels will follow suit and drop their insistence on DRM unless Jobs agrees to sell more "bundles" of songs, videos, and other media designed to inflate the overall price of obtaining a track, the AP said.

Last year, the labels caved to Jobs' insistence on the fixed 99-cent price and signed one-year deals. It's not clear exactly what will happen this year, but as the dominant source of legally available online music, Apple holds a lot of clout. Stay tuned: the iTunes Store could wind up looking very different this summer.