Apple has launched iTunes Plus, featuring DRM-free music tracks featuring high-quality 256kbps AAC encoding for what it call "audio quality virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings". Each DRM-free song costs 99p.

Digital rights management (DRM) refers to technologies used by publishers or copyright owners to control access to or usage of digital data or hardware, and to restrictions associated with a specific instance of a digital work or device.

With the release of iTunes Plus, customers can now download tracks from EMI artists without limitations on the type of music player or number of computers that purchased songs can be played on. iTunes is also offering customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their library of previously purchased EMI content to the iTunes Plus versions.

iTunes Plus is launching with EMI’s digital catalogue of outstanding recordings, including singles and albums from Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Joss Stone, Pink Floyd, John Coltrane and a stack of Paul McCartney albums.

The company released an update to iTunes (version 7.2) last night, introducing support for new DRM-free music sales, a move first promised by Apple CEO Steve Jobs and EMI CEO Eric Nicoli in April.

"With iTunes 7.2, preview and purchase iTunes Plus music - new higher-quality, DRM-free music downloads from participating music labels," Apple urges in notes accompanying the software.

iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalogue, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today (128Kbps AAC encoding with DRM) at the same price of 79p per song, alongside the higher-quality iTunes Plus versions when available. In addition, iTunes customers can upgrade their library of previously purchased EMI content to iTunes Plus tracks for just 20p a song and £2 for most albums.

“Our customers are very excited about the freedom and amazing sound quality of iTunes Plus,” said Jobs. “We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year.”

“This is a tremendous milestone for digital music,” said Nicoli. “Consumers are going to love listening to higher quality iTunes Plus tracks from their favourite EMI artists with no usage restrictions.”

EMI music videos are now also available in iTunes Plus versions with no change in price.

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