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Amazon digital music store goes online

Must Read has introduced its widely anticipated digital music store with nearly 2.3 million songs, none of them protected against copying. Two major labels, Universal and EMI, have signed on to sell their music on Amazon, as have thousands of independent labels.

The store, Amazon MP3, will allow shoppers to buy and download individual songs or entire albums. The tracks can be copied to several computers, burned on to compact discs, and played on most types of PCs and portable devices, including the Apple iPod and Microsoft Zune. Songs cost 89 cents to 99 cents each, and albums sell for $5.99 to $9.99.

The Amazon store is intended to compete with Apple’s market-leading iTunes, which is also offering some songs without digital rights management technology, whereby unauthorised copies are prevented from being played.

Although digital rights management helps to stem illegal copying, it can frustrate listeners by limiting the types of devices or the number of computers on which they can play music. Copy-protected songs sold through iTunes will generally not play on devices other than the iPod, and iPods will not play copy-protected songs bought at rival music stores.

Amazon’s vice president for digital music, Bill Carr, said it would be up to customers to legally use the music they buy. To help stop music piracy, Carr said, some record labels add a digital watermark to MP3 files that indicate what company sold the song, and Amazon adds its own name and the item number of the song for customer service purposes. He added that no details about the buyer or the transaction are added to the downloaded music file.

David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Research, said that “having two out of four labels doesn’t cut it.” Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which is owned by Sony and Bertelsmann, have not agreed to sell music on Amazon MP3, and Card pointed out that Universal and EMI have made only parts of their catalogues available without copy protection.

He said that Amazon’s entrance into the market represented serious competition for Apple, though, in and of itself, Amazon MP3 “isn’t enough to change any market share.” “They have to do a good job at building their store,” he said.

– Bangalore Bureau

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