In trying to move to a 90-second song sample, iTunes may have to pay for the privilege, which is not out of line with the way things have been going lately in the music industry.

Apple's move to a longer song clip was reported earlier this week by Cnet.

Song samples first came into play in the early-to-mid 1990s on in-store kiosks. Initially, the rights for them were supplied for free by the publishers and labels. When the song sample concept migrated to the online world, the free tradition continued, under the concept that anything that stimulates sales is good for the industry in the long run.

But in the early part of the new century, the major labels and publishers began charging services like Muze and All Music Guide, who were selling their services that included song samples to online merchants.

When that happened, the major labels and publishers turned their attention to the merchants themselves. In some instances, they charged the merchants, and in others they didn't. Regardless, song samples and what happens with them are definitely on the majors' radar.

For instance, earlier this year when Rovi Corp -- which has acquired Muze and All Music Guide over the last few years -- started selling its music sampling services to some peer-to-peer sites, at least one of the majors put a stop to that and made them pull their song samples down from those sites.

Interactive streams of entire songs generally need a performing right, a mechanical right and a master rights. The major publishers and labels are fickle about whom they charge (Rovi) and whom they don't (large online music stores). But even within the latter category, there is inconsistent treatment. For example, one online music retail executive says his company gets the master right and mechanical right for free but pays the performance rights organization for a blanket license.

In the latest incident, sources say that the major music labels and publishers are okay with the longer samples, although it was unclear if iTunes had agreed to pay anything for the privilege of the 90-second song clip.

But beyond the majors, iTunes may have reached out to the other music publishers late in the process. A spokesman for the National Music Publishers Assn. says, "NMPA has not raised any objection to plans for longer samples and looks forward to discussing the issue with Apple, if they want to pursue it."

The implication is that iTunes will have to pay for the privilege of the 90-second song sample. As one music industry executive puts it, "There is a precedent for not charging any royalties for a 30-second sample. I don't think you can say that such a precedent exists for the 90-second sample."