Could Universal be the next major label to sell DRM-free songs? According to several reports around the web, the world's largest record company is preparing to experiment with selling digital music without the existing levels of copy protection.

Last month, Apple debuted iTunes Plus offering DRM-free song downloads from EMI's catalog, with superior sound quality at 256kbps for a 30 cents premium over the usual $0.99 copy protected songs. The move created some speculation over other record labels following suit, and hopefully they will.

A final decision from Universal is due later in the year, after the test program is completed. Rivals such as the second-ranked Sony BMG acknowledge that if the market leader changes its stance, neither it nor fourth-ranked Warner Music will be able to persist with the same digital safeguards.
Apple's DRM technology is incompatible with other devices, meaning that songs bought from the iTunes Store cannot be played on other music players. The leading online music retailer wants the music industry to drop copy protection in return for charging higher prices; however, music companies would prefer seeing Apple simply make its product compatible with all music stores, while retaining DRM protection. But seeing Apple's growing influence in the market, that's not likely to happen soon.

What's interesting to note is the market is slowly moving towards less restrictive business models, with Amazon launching an all DRM-free store later this year and Warner's recent agreement with start-up, allowing users to stream music for free in return for the record company getting a radio-style per-play royalty.