Through the Wire 

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A couple of months ago Steve Jobs posted an open letter to the recording industry asking that it discontinue the requirement that downloaded songs from stores such as iTunes be protected with digital rights management (DRM) technology.

The presence of DRM is what limits your ability to use downloaded songs any way you like. For example, you can burn them to a CD a set number of times only, and if you have two computers on a network in your home, you can listen to the downloaded songs on either one, but you can burn them using only the computer on which you originally downloaded the songs.

The second-largest online music store after iTunes, eMusic (www.emusic.com), offers all its music in an unprotected MP3 format, which means you can use it any way you wish. The site sells music without DRM because the business doesn't work with major labels; everything on eMusic (2 million tracks, according to its Web site) comes from the independents. But "independent" in eMusic's case has nothing to do with genre, although it does carry material by leading indie rock bands such as the Decemberists and Arcade Fire.

The most impressive part of the eMusic catalog is its deep trove of archival material from the likes of Johnny Cash (all of his key Sun records material), Afro-pop pioneer Fela Kuti, old folk and blues on Smithsonian Folkways records, and thousands more. Rather than charging per track, eMusic is a subscription service, with packages ranging from $9.99 to $19.99 per month, allowing downloads of between 30 and 75 songs. Which, you'll notice, is also much cheaper than iTunes' 99 cents per track.

If you're a steady downloader with an interest in offbeat music, it's certainly worth a look. S

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