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Universal trials DRM-free music: Cheering heard from space

Universal, the largest record label on Earth, has announced it will begin a trial of DRM-free downloads of its major artists. Oh, and it's not letting iTunes sell them

Universal, the largest of the world's four major record labels, has announced it will dip its toe in the crystal-clean waters of Lake DRM-free. The execs in charge of the label say they've been considering the move internally since earlier this year, and are finally ready to give the consumers a five-month trial of DRM-free music downloads, starting later this month.

Interestingly, the artists scheduled to be included in the pilot test will be the label's major players. Universal is home to some A-list artists, including Eminem, Gwen Stefani, 50 Pence and Elton John. They also own artists that aren't rubbish, but whether or not these will be included is anyone's guess.

Sadly for us, it looks like this will be a US-only experiment. Unlike DRM-free label EMI, Universal doesn't have its roots planted in UK soil. Distributers of the DRM-free tunes include Amazon and RealNetworks, but does not include iTunes -- the world's largest retailer of online music.

Universal recently pulled its deals with the Apple-owned etailer, opting instead for short-term contracts in order to maintain more control over how Apple sells its music. Whether or not Granny Smith's awkwardness towards variable pricing has steered Universal clear is unknown. But the label may be shooting itself in both feet by not allowing the content everyone's been after to be sold on the store everyone uses.

Crave's message is simple: good first move, Universal, but don't cut your nose to spite your face. -Nate Lanxon