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Music Download Services Adopt More Liberal Policies

10/13/2003 01:49:00 PM Eastern

San Diego - Two new music-download services, MusicMatch and Napster 2.0, are taking a cue from Apple’s iTunes Store, delivering subscription-free services with per-song download fees and more liberal transfer and CD-burning policies than the first generation of authorized download services.

Like iTunes, the services let users burn any song to a CD or transfer any song to a portable device. Unlike iTunes, however, transfers will be compatible with multiple brands of portable devices that support the DRM-protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. Downloads from iTunes can be transferred only to Apple’s iPods.

For its part, subscription-service MusicNet said it plans to liberalize its usage policies in October or November based on renegotiated rights with music companies. The company currently allows its partners to offer disc burning, but transfers to portable devices aren’t allowed. To date, MusicNet’s sole partner is AOL, which limits the total number of burns per subscriber to 10 per month.

Among the new services, Roxio’s Napster 2.0 will go live October 29 with two service options: nonsubscription and subscription. For its nonsubscription service, Napster 2.0 lets users download and 'own' a song for 99 cents each, burn the song as many times as they want to a CD in Redbook Audio form, and transfer the song to an unlimited number of compatible portable devices. Users won’t be able to e-mail songs, but they will be able to play the songs from at least two other PCs that have been registered with the service.

At $9.95/month, users will get a 'deeper, richer' experience that includes streaming of more than 40 Internet radio stations as well as unlimited downloading of Napster's available 500,000 songs to their PC's hard drive. Users who want to 'own' the songs will pay 99 cents per song. The songs are available from the big five music companies and hundreds of independent labels.

The premium service also gives subscribers the ability to burn a song as they're listening to them on a Napster radio station and share their playlists with other subscribers. The recipient will be able to listen to those songs once, then buy them.

Napster/Samsung cobrand: The service will be tightly integrated with Samsung’s first HDD music portable, the co-branded Samsung/Napster YP910, and with future cobranded Samsung devices. Integration will, among other things, enable users to drag-and-drop playlists from their PC directly to the portable device instead of transferring one song at a time.

The YP910, available through Best Buy on October 19, will pack a 20GB hard drive, MP3 encoder and FM tuner at an expected everyday $399. The unit also transmits audio via FM wirelessly for playback by a car or home stereo.

Napster 2.0 will replace Pressplay, the subscription-based streaming and download service that Roxio recently purchased earlier this year from Sony and Universal. That service, which was discontinued on Oct. 7, also let users burn and transfer songs with usage rules as liberal as Napster 2.0 service, but Pressplay didn’t start out with such liberal policies.

MusicMatch launch: As for the MusicMatch service launched in recent weeks, the company offers more than 200,000 songs from the big five and 30 independents, and the company promises 500,000 songs by the end of the year. Download functionality is integrated into the company’s MusicMatch Jukebox music-management software.

MusicMatch’s 160kbps Windows Media Audio 9 downloads cost 99 cents each, or $9.99 for most albums. MusicMatch personal-use features include:

--Unlimited transfers to WMA-compatible portables.

--The ability to burn each downloaded song in Redbook Audio form to an unlimited number of CDs, although only five discs can be burned with the same playlist of Redbook songs.

--The ability to play the compressed-music files on up to three PCs in three different locations. Downloaders must use their user name and password to register the PCs on-line with MusicMatch. After that, the file can be played from those PCs without being connected to the Interent. The compressed files can be exported to the second and third PCs via e-mail or via a WMA CD.

Where it began: The liberal-use trend gained momentum with the launch of Apple’s service in the spring, followed by the summertime launch of Buymusic.com’s subscription-free download service.

Apple lets users transfer each downloaded song to an unlimited number of compatible iPods, not just to the user’s own iPod. Second, it allows unlimited disc burning in Redbook Audio form to data and music CD-R/RW discs and to DVD-ROM, with one proviso. After a particular playlist is burned to 10 discs, users have to change the order of songs to burn the next 10 discs.

iTunes also lets a user share a song among three Macs registered with Apple. The songs could even be e-mailed among the registered computers.

Buymusic.com , launched in the summer to sell WMA-format songs without a subscription, allows for playback on multiple registered PCs, depending on usage rights negotiated. All songs can also be burned to CD or transferred to a portable device, with the number of authorized burns ranging from three to unlimited, a quick survey of songs on the site showed. Users can also transfer the songs to three or more portable devices, in some cases to an unlimited number of portables, the company said.

The Real Networks’ Rhapsody subscription streaming service allows for CD burning, but not all songs are burnable.

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