MusicNet opens major music catalogs online _ for a price


Tuesday, December 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



SAN JOSE, California (AP) _ As the music industry begins its first major attempt to capture the audience of the free song-swapping service Napster, it's far from settled whether users will be paying for less.

MusicNet, a pay-for-play service of RealNetworks Inc. and three major labels launching Tuesday, permits users who pay at least dlrs 9.95 a month to download or stream songs on their personal computers.

Unlike Napster, they cannot transfer the songs to portable players or burn them on compact discs. The tunes also expire after 30 days unless customers reactivate them.

But on a positive note, users are guaranteed a quality download _ not one ripped by a stranger on an inadequate computer and mislabeled as was often the case with Napster.

MusicNet opens the music libraries of AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group to legal online transfers. In all, 75,000 tracks by artists such as Eric Clapton, Faith Hill, 'N Sync and Britney Spears will be available.

RealNetworks' RealOne player is the first software able to take advantage of the service. America Online is expected to launch its own player within the next month.

``The benefit to being a subscriber will be convenience and ease of use,'' said Mark Hall, vice president of programming for Seattle-based RealNetworks.

The basic dlrs 9.95 monthly fee covers 100 downloads and 100 streams, though more credits can be purchased.

Subscribers can browse libraries alphabetically and by genre through the RealOne player, which is a free download. The program also will recommend related artists, much like how Amazon.com suggests books.

MusicNet is the first of two label-sponsored services announced as the music industry battled Napster, a file-sharing service that allowed users to swap tunes without paying. It went offline in July amid a flurry of copyright infringement lawsuits.

Eventually, Napster is supposed to become a MusicNet distributor once the company releases a version of its software that can handle a payment system and honor copyrights.

The other major-label service, pressplay, is owned by Vivendi Universal SA and Sony Corp. and will use Microsoft Corp.'s technology for music files.

Unlike MusicNet, pressplay will let users accumulate songs and continue to listen to them, provided their subscriptions are paid. But it will not allow CD burning or listening away from a PC.

The service's pricing and other details will not be revealed until its launch, expected sometime before Dec. 21, said Seth Oster, pressplay's spokesman.

Neither service will include all the music from the partners' catalogs because the labels do not hold all the digital distribution rights. More tracks will be added as deals are renegotiated.

Though neither MusicNet nor pressplay will be competing against Napster, they will have to contend with Napster-like services that continue to flourish on the Internet.

The research firm Webnoize recently reported that the use of Grokster, Kazaa and MusicCity increased 20 percent between September and October.