EMI, the record label that includes acts ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Spice Girls, will begin tomorrow the first serious attempt by a major record label to sell music online.
The music company will release more than 100 albums and 40 singles for fans to download through major online retailers. However, the music will not be distributed using the controversial MP3 audio compression format.
"EMI is the first major record label to release this volume of songs for digital download into the retail channel," Richard Cottrell, president of EMI Music Distribution, told Reuters.
The downloads will be sold online through major retailers from 18 July at suggested prices comparable with those of traditional retail sales of CDs.
Eric Scheirer, an analyst for Forrester Research, said in the short term the service is unlikely to attract consumers who are now using Napster, but that this is no reason for record labels not to start online selling initiatives.
The full-scale trial comes amid continuing legal conflict over copyright between the recording industry and online MP3 swapping sites such as Napster and MP3.com.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster for copyright infringement in December and is now seeking a preliminary injunction against the site, which has about 20 million registered users. Napster's service allows fans to downloaded songs freely without copyright protection - or the collection of royalties.
The software used by EMI would deliver tracks in a secure format to prevent piracy. Each file would have restrictions in the code limiting the number of times a file can be copied for personal use, using digital right management technology from Liquid Audio. It will be available in both Liquid Audio and Windows Media formats.
The release of tracks in the secure Windows Media format coincides with the release of Microsoft's latest version of its Windows Media Player 7 at midnight tonight BST.
EMI is far from the only label looking into the technology. In April Sony Music and BMG announced plans to begin limited sales of singles over the internet using digital rights management technology.
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