EMI licenses DRM-free catalog to PassAlong Networks

Following its Apple and Amazon deals, the U.K.-based record label inks a deal with a company that provides white-label digital music stores to retailers.

The U.K.-based EMI Group continues its campaign to provide its digital music library free of DRM restrictions: it just announced that it has licensed the entire catalog to PassAlong Networks, which operates the StoreBlocks music retail technology used in online stores like F.Y.E. and BreakthruRadio.

The songs will be sold in MP3 format at a 320 kilobit rate--more than typical digital music bitrates of 128 to 192kb, and more than the 256kb premium songs offered by Apple's iTunes Store--but pricing has not yet been determined.

In April, EMI announced in conjunction with Apple that it would be providing its entire digital music catalog with improved sound quality and no digital rights management to the company's iTunes Store. EMI simultaneously announced plans to offer the "naked" catalog to other music sales outlets. The iTunes Store began selling the DRM-free songs late last month, and also in May, Amazon announced plans for DRM-free music downloads with EMI as the first major partner.

Currently, PassAlong Networks has access to almost 3 million songs, about 2 million of which are independent-label tracks in MP3 format. A PassAlong Networks spokesman confirmed to CNET that the company is also exploring similar DRM-free opportunities with other labels.

A side note: The rest of PassAlong Networks' songs are sold in a Windows Media DRM format that is incompatible with Apple computers, and as a result, many PassAlong-powered stores would not load on this reporter's Mac laptop. It's unclear as to whether or not the stores will be opened up to Mac buyers now--we'll update this post when PassAlong representatives e-mail us back with an answer to the question.

UPDATE: A PassAlong representative answered my question on Wednesday morning. The EMI tracks will indeed be Mac-compatible, and a Mac-friendly relaunch of PassAlong stores like F.Y.E. is on track for mid-July.