Virgin & Universal Team For DRM Free Unlimited Music Downloads

Could this be the dawn of a highly welcome new era?

I’ve long said the only way to reduce piracy is to make downloading legal content both affordable and – vitally – ”easier” than illegal content…

To this end Virgin Media has stepped in to team up with Universal Music to offer what it is calls the “world’s first unlimited music download subscription service”. Of course it isn’t. That title goes to Nokia’s Comes With Music – but more importantly, all Virgin’s content will be DRM free.

In short this means unlimited downloads with no restrictions: it can be used on any device – MP3 player, phone, PMP or PC – and added to any music library. Virgin is also negotiating with other UK major and independent labels to expand the available catalogue before launch.

“In terms of both convenience and value, our new music service will be superior to anything that’s available online today and provides a fair deal for both consumers and artists,” said Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett. “There is no better example of Virgin Media’s commitment to harnessing digital technology to give customers what they want, when they want and how they want.”

Universal Music CEO Lucian Grainge added “Britain has a world-class reputation for artists and music. Now British consumers will have access to a world-class digital music service. I believe this puts all of us at the forefront of a new era.”

Yes fellas, it just might. Still, we’re into caveat time and since we’re never a site to take things at face value I’ve done some digging and discovered a couple of key points (as well as a fabulous old picture of Richard Branson with Mick Jagger).

The biggie is to use the service you will need to be a Virgin Media broadband subscriber. Yes, this immediately knocks out the majority of potential customers out there but the Virgin explained to me this was a business decision. Whether you wish to develop any conspiracy theories about monitoring of potential P2P follow-up behaviour is entirely up to you.

Secondly is price and while no service has been announced I’ve managed to attain that it will cost between £15 and £20 per month. The launch date is also some way off with Virgin hoping to have it up and running before Christmas. Thirdly – and a major aspect for music lovers – is bitrate. Again this was absent from the announcement but I’ve learnt Virgin is toying with the smart idea of offering music at a choice of bitrates. Hot favourite for the maximum bitrate is currently 256kbps but I did stress to them that 320kbps is where all the cool kids play these days!

Lastly, don’t expect Virgin’s rivals to be sitting still over this. Record labels are fair weather friends and once the precedent is negotiated for a new type of service with one company they will usually deal quickly with others. Expect Amazon, Apple, 7Digital et al to be on the phone engaged in heated discussions as we speak.

So an exciting day for music and an important one. Let’s pray they get this right…

Press Release

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