Universal is to blow the lid off the DRM debate by launching DRM-free music in the not too distant future. That's the word coming from sources close to the Universal Music Group this morning.

Universal previously denied reports that it's considering joining the DRM-free iTunes Plus store. But Tech.co.uk has learned that the major US music label is in fact on the verge of unleashing some form of DRM-free service.

"We've been testing DRM free tracks and we'll continue to do so. Among the things we are looking at are effects on piracy and sales," said a source close to the company.

Of the big four music labels - EMI , Universal, Sony BMG and Warner Music - only Britain's EMI has so far ventured into the DRM-free zone on iTunes Plus . When Universal does make its music available DRM-free, it's unthinkable that it won't be available on iTunes Plus as well as on other music services.

Universal WILL go DRM free

When the day comes that Universal goes protection-free, it is likely to blow the DRM discussion apart for good.

Sony BMG and Warner will be forced to follow Universal and EMI into the protection-free market to avoid being left behind. They need to keep up with the changing times and will not want to risk becoming uncompetitive in the market.

Indie labels will continue to follow suit, and before long it's likely that you'll be able to buy most songs DRM free over the net. Universal's artists include Dr. Dre, U2 and Elton John.

DRM (digital rights management) is a way of copy-protecting music files so that they cannot be shared on P2P networks over the internet.