March 4, 2003 11:29 AM PST

Apple preparing digital music service

Apple Computer is preparing an online music-buying service for Macintosh and iPod users and is close to winning many of the licenses it needs from major record labels, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

The service, first reported by The Los Angeles Times, would be the first legal online music service targeted specifically at Apple owners. Most of the other authorized subscription plans, including Pressplay, MusicNet, and's Rhapsody, still lack support for Macintosh computers. Apple users have long had access to an assortment of file-swapping services, however.

The service could also go a long way toward repairing Apple's strained relationships with content owners, stemming from the company's high-profile advertising campaign, which touted the arrival of Macs with CD burners with the slogan: "Rip. Mix. Burn."

No details on pricing or possible content-protection technology were immediately available. Apple declined to comment on the service.

Apple has previously found itself snubbed by most of the early movie and music subscription services, in part because of its refusal to build strict digital rights management tools into its products.

The company has tried to stake what it sees as a middle ground in the digital copyright arena, supporting the position of copyright holders while ultimately leaving the decisions in the hands of its customers. With the iPod, for example, Apple has a synching feature that, when enabled, limits the digital music player to sharing music with one computer. By disabling that feature, an iPod user can allow the device to swap tunes with any number of Macs.

"Piracy is not a technological issue. It's a behavior issue," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said when the iPod was introduced in October 2001.

As for copy protection, Apple includes none with the iPod currently, though the device does come in a plastic wrap that admonishes in English, French, German and Japanese: "Don't steal music."

Jobs said that all the encryption schemes that have been developed can also be cracked, and he made the case that Apple understands where the record companies are coming from. "We own a lot of intellectual property ourselves. We're one of the few companies in the industry that does," Jobs said.


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