The Apple/EMI announcement of a new age of DRM-free music has changed the game, according to industry insiders.

EMI's decision to release its music catalogue through iTunes at higher quality bitrates and without rights restricting consumer-unfriendly DRM has given Apple a lot of leverage when it comes to renewing its deals with the three other major labels.

The company is due to sit with label chiefs in the coming weeks in order to renegotiate its iTunes online music distribution deal.

The EMI move means Apple is likely to attempt to secure similar deals with other majors. Independent music companies are already happy to sell music online without rights restriction.

"EMI struck a deal that puts all of us at a disadvantage," one industry executive told Reuters.

That's not strictly true, of course, the majority of music labels are independent and already happy to distribute tracks DRM-free through services such as eMusic. The only labels impacted are the three remaining major labels (other than EMI).

EMI believes its plan will boost the digital music industry by removing two more excuses for piracy: quality and user rights.

Some observers note that following EMI's move will only be a matter of time.

The majors are expected to push Apple into allowing them to establish flexible prices; and there is some talk that majors may attempt to grab a slice of iPod profits.