Following the lead of rival record label EMI, Universal Music says it will later this month begin selling DRM-free music downloads
through a variety of sites -- but not through Apple's iTunes Music Store. Apple and Universal have a long-running spat which culminated in Universal's refusal last month to to renew its iTunes Music Store contract
. While its music is still sold through the store, Universal could yank it at any time. Universal's decision not to give Apple the unprotected tracks seems like little more than an attempt to reduce its influence in the music market -- which is a little ironic, considering that it was the record labels' insistence on using DRM that made Apple so powerful
in the space. Making the unprotected tracks available through other retailers is about the only way that Universal can fight back, but it's hard to see the benefit in not selling the product through iTMS, given its popularity. The problem for Universal is that few people pay attention
to what label artists' records are on, so they're not going to go, "Oh, 50 Cent is on Universal, so I should go to Amazon to buy his unprotected MP3s." If they're an iTMS user, they're generally just going to look and see if the 50 Cent songs they want are available there, then download them. In that case, they're going to purchase the cheaper, DRM-encumbered track, since it's what's available, and Universal misses out on the chance to sell them a higher-priced unrestricted track. The core of the label's disagreement with Apple is pricing -- but their attempt to strike some sort of blow against the company will, in all likelihood, only end up hurting themselves.