Challenge to Apple as new download service offers tracks to unlimited number of devices

A revolution in music downloads has been hailed as a victory for music lovers - and the biggest challenge yet to Apple and its iTunes store.

A new service from internet firm means tracks will be available from the big four record companies without a digital lock.

In the past, Apple and other official download sites have sold music with a digital lock which meant it could only be played on a single device and could not be copied.


7digital will offer music in the MP3 format which can be downloaded to multiple devices, which is a major challenge to Apple's iTunes

The lock - known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) - was always a great frustration to music lovers who resented the limits imposed on how they listened to their favourite artists.

Now, in a major victory for consumer power, 7digital will offer music in the MP3 format which can be downloaded to iPods, other MP3 players, mobile phones and Blackberries.

Consumers will be able to copy and transfer the tracks to as many digital music players as they want.

In the past, three of the big four record labels - EMI, Universal and Warner - had agreed to remove DRM from their downloads.

Now the final big name, Sony BMG, whose artists include Bob Dylan, Metallica, Kings of Leon and Michael Jackson, has agreed to follow suit.

A spokesman for the website TechDigest said: 'This is a momentous occasion because it represents a victory for consumers in the battle for digital music.

'This announcement means that all music bought from 7Digital can be played on iPods.'

Some four million tracks are available for the 7Digital service featuring artists ranging from Amy Winehouse to The Cure and jazz legends like Miles Davis.

The firm's chief executive, Ben Drury, said: 'We are extremely happy to be the first and only digital media company providing a full catalogue of MP3 music for the increasing number of people who are using the internet to download music onto different devices.

'The high-quality DRM-free MP3 format is what digital music consumers have been waiting for.  It is a universal download format that can be copied and played on multiple devices including iPods, iPhones, Blackberries and other devices.'

He added: 'Consumers see DRM as somewhat of a hindrance when purchasing legal digital music. The availability of all of the big four music labels in high-quality MP3 is fantastic news for the UK music fan - everything they now buy from us they can be sure will work on all their devices.'

New music services without the digital lock are expected to be announced shortly by Amazon and MySpace, creating yet more competition for Apple's iTunes.

The company, which said it is expanding services in Europe and north America, has announced a partner programme to allow third parties to sell music via its service.

Tracks on the service generally cost 79p each, while the cost of an album is typically £7.99.

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