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Following yesterday’s announcement that Apple had reached agreements to convert the entire iTunes library to “iTunes Plus” format, a format without digital rights management (DRM), some people seem surprised that Apple is charging users 30 cents to upgrade a song. Well guess what? They have been since 2007, when iTunes Plus first launched.

To me, this underscores why Apple had to go DRM-free. While people are in a tizzy over 30 cents a song to go DRM-free, imagine the reaction if 5 or 10 years down the line Apple no longer made the dominant media playing device and all of a sudden people en masse started realizing their music would not play on any new device they bought that wasn’t made by Apple.

I’m not saying the 30 cents a song (and 60 cents a music video) is a great deal, but you’re getting a better quality version and removing the DRM restriction for something that you already agreed to buy. Though I suppose one could argue that since iTunes Plus is now the same price as DRM-laced iTunes tracks were, Apple should offer a complimentary upgrade. After all, when it first started charging 30 cents to upgrade a track to iTunes Plus, it was charging $0.30 more for iTunes Plus tracks.

These potential upgrades are big business. How big? Try $1.8 billion, as TechCrunch points out. But that’s assuming that all 6 billion songs sold on iTunes (some of which were already DRM-free) are going to be upgraded — which, of course, won’t happen. Probably a small percentage will — especially if it really takes as long as Apple 2.0’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt says (over seven hours for 231 songs?!).

Perhaps a better idea would be for Apple to allow users who bought songs initially through iTunes to upgrade to iTunes Plus for free, but to charge users who obtained their music through less than legal means (piracy) to “do the right thing” and upgrade their libraries. Okay, that will never happen. After all, that music was already DRM-free to begin with — like all digital music should have been in the first place.

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