RealNetworks says it is close to offering MusicNet, a music download service which is being touted as a legal version of Napster.
RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser said that a typical $10 monthly subscription might include the ability to download or listen to 75 songs.
MusicNet, the joint venture between RealNetworks and major record labels from America On Line Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group, will be offered through affiliates.
AOL, for example, will have the ability to customise how the program looks while other basic features will remain constant, like the ability to sort by artist, album or decade.
According to Glaser, the first version of the software would not include the ability to view the files on the computers of other MusicNet subscribers, a feature that popular music-swapping service Napster provides.
"There's always a trade-off between ease of use for the consumer and the needs of the rights holders," he said. "We think we've struck a good balance."
In an ironic twist, MusicNet could team up with Napster, which entered into a partnership with Bertelsmann last October. According to RealNetworks, MusicNet will license its platform to any distribution outlet, including Napster, so long as it meets certain legal, copyright and security requirements.
MusicNet is also negotiating with Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, which have formed a rival venture called Duet. Both ventures are expected to launch late this summer.
Neither of the services will allow users to purchase the music permanently because of record company concerns about detracting from their sales of CDs if consumers are able to pick the songs they want from an online service.
Napster still says it will have its own subscription-based offering available by summer.
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