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EMI Expands Web Music Downloads

New York — EMI Recorded Music, the world’s third-largest music company, has authorized the sale of music distributed over the Internet, initially offering more than 100 albums and more than 100 singles through more than 75 websites.

EMI follows Sony Music in allowing consumers to buy music from authorized websites that upload the files to the consumer’s PC. By the end of the year, all five of the music industries largest companies could be downloading songs for a fee.

As the music companies authorize the purchase of a greater selection of electronically distributed music, analysts and suppliers expect the potential customer base for Internet audio portables to grow. A greater selection of music from the companies will also stimulate the market for future home-audio-component-style devices that connect directly to the Internet to download or stream music.

Despite the scale of the launch, EMI did not aggressively publicize the development, said technology partner Supertracks, which provided infrastructure for the Virgin and HMV sites. “It’s still viewed as a trial because kinks are still being worked out of everyone’s systems,” a spokesperson said.

Like their three rivals, Sony and EMI had distributed music for sale electronically as part of limited market trials or had authorized free music downloads for promotional purposes. The free downloads would be locked to the user’s hard drive and would often “time out” after a few days.

In its announcement, EMI leaped ahead of Sony in its selection of authorized downloadable music.

Whereas Sony’s music is downloaded in the Sony-developed ATRAC3 format protected by Microsoft’s digital-rights-management (DRM) technology, EMI’s music is available in copyright-protected Liquid Audio and Windows Media formats. Those formats can be played back on Internet audio portables such as Creative’s Nomad II, Diamond’s Rio 600, RCA’s Lyra, and soon, a model from I-Jam.

EMI-authorized sites include Virgin, Tower Records’ site, Compact Disc World, Harmony House, Scotti’s Record Shop, and in Canada,

EMI artists available include Pink Floyd, Bonnie Raitt, Frank Sinatra, D’Angelo, Everclear, Selena, Snoop Dogg, Spice Girls and Tina Turner. EMI’s labels include Capitol, Angel, Blue Note, EMI, Priority and Virgin.

On the sites using Supertracks infrastructure, the songs and albums use SDMI’s Phase I watermark technology, Supertracks said. Details on the other site’s implementation were unavailable.

On the Virgin JamCast site, select album prices range from $12.23 for David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Trace Adkins’ Dreamin’ Out Loud to $12.95 for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Prices for single songs range from 99 cents for Aztek Trip’s “Beautiful” to $1.99 for EmmyLou Harris’s “Boulder to Birmingham.”

For its part, BMG Entertainment expects “to launch our own commercial downloading activities later this summer,” said BMG New Technology president Kevin Conroy. Earlier in the year, the company cited a late-June or early-July launch of authorized paid-for downloads.

At launch, BMG will offer a combination of current hits and catalog music in the form of both singles and full-length albums, Conroy said. “This music will be available through a growing network of online retailers. We will continue to add to both the number of tracks and albums available and to the number of retail partners. We are also actively pursuing several new models through which music fans will be able to access our artists’ music.”