Better late than never.

One of the expected announcements that didn’t make it in Apple’s September music event was lengthening the iTunes song samples played from 30 to 90 seconds. But according to a recent communication to Apple’s record label partners, that’s about to change.

According to a note sent to iTunes partners, Apple is close to increasing its song sample length to 90 seconds for any song longer than 2-and-a-half minutes. When exactly that happens is not yet clear, as it has yet to finalize its negotiations with publishers to allow this change. But according to sources in the publishing community, those negotiations are far enough along that Apple is now roping in labels to get their buy-in as well.

In fact, according to sources, Apple has had agreements with the major labels for this since September (despite how some outlets have positioned today’s news). The note surfacing today was sent to the many independent labels that help make up the services 15 million song-strong catalog.

Apple almost announced its plans to lengthen its song samples with the majors onboard back in September, but an objection from the NMPA threw those plans off course. The NMPA pointed out that Apple needs to get permission first under its existing licensing agreements.

There are actually two sets of agreements Apple needs in order to lengthen song samples. The frst is with performing rights organizations such as BMI and ASCAP for the performance royalty involved in streaming the song. Another is with publishers through organizations like the NMPA to update the mechanical license involved with downloading it.

It’s the latter royalty that caused the hang up. Under Apple’s existing agreements, it gets the right to stream 30-second clips for free, and then pays publishers when someone buys a track. Extending the clip length requires updating the mechanical license. The NMPA is working with Apple to make that happen. According to sources, it’s not a matter of price (as it’s still a free license) but rather of language and indemnity.

Because any given song may have multiple co-writers, publishers want to make sure they can’t get sued for granting Apple the right to stream longer song samples if another publisher with rights to the song objects. Additionally, they want to make sure the agreement doesn’t set a precedent that would allow other digital retailers to similarly lengthen their song samples without first negotiating an agreement, or let Apple further lengthen the song samples without doing the same.

So the major labels are already onboard, and these issues with the publishers appear close enough to resolution that Apple is now updating yet a third tier of permissions—indie labels. Apple’s note is asking them to amend their existing sales agreements to allow for the longer stream by opting out. Simply put, labels who don’t wish to comply can just remove their songs from the service, but that’s unlikely to happen as most labels have been wanting this for some time.

Sources within the major label community hope the extended song samples will go live in time for the Christmas holiday. Digital distribution and technology provider Symphonic Distribution printed an excerpt of Apple’s note, which reads in part:
"We are pleased to let you know that we are preparing to increase the length of music previews from 30 seconds to 90 seconds on the iTunes Store in the United States. We believe that giving potential customers more time to listen to your music will lead to more purchases."
The text of the full not appears on MacRumors.

An Apple representative was not immediately available to comment.