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Sony BMG to sell music downloads free of copyright-protection
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Sony BMG will start selling music downloads free of copyright-protection safeguards later this month in North America, as even the last holdout among the major record labels crumbled to the growing trend.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment said in a statement that some digital albums will be available through a new download service called Platinum MusicPass starting next Tuesday in the United States and late January in Canada.

A Sony Corp official in Tokyo, requesting anonymity, confirmed the company's move toward the MP3 format in the US, but said that similar moves aren't in the works in Japan and elsewhere.

Music files in the MP3 format can be copied to computers and burned onto CDs without restriction. They can also be played on most digital music players, including Apple Inc's iPod as well as on personal computers.

As a Japanese electronic maker that also has major entertainment businesses, including its music joint venture with Bertelsmann AG, Sony has long resisted the global trend toward MP3 files.

Tokyo-based Sony has stuck to what the industry calls Digital Rights Management, or DRM, which are like software coding that prevents copying downloaded tunes by making some songs incompatible with some digital players.

But CD sales around the world have been on a skid as more people opt to purchase their music online, such as Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Sony has taken a beating in digital players with the booming popularity of the iPod, even in its home Japanese market.

Sony BMG's MusicPass will offer 37 titles at first, including rock, pop and other genres, according to the company. But people must first buy a card available at 4,500 retail outlets across the US, including Best Buy, Target and others, it said.

The US$12.99 cards will have a password identification number on the back and so the people will be able to visit an Internet site for MusicPass to download audio files, Sony BMG said.
Last month, Warner Music Group, which had also resisted selling music online without copy protection, agreed to sell its tunes on Amazon's digital music store.

Universal Music Group and EMI Music Group PLC have earlier signed to sell large portions of their catalogs as MP3 files, as have many independent labels.

"The introduction of MusicPass is an important part of Sony BMG's ongoing campaign to bring its artists' music to fans in new and innovative ways," said Thomas Hesse, president, global digital business and US sales, at Sony BMG.

One of the albums offered is Celine Dion's "Taking Chances." Sony BMG's other artists include Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Avril Lavigne.

(Shanghai Daily January 9, 2008)

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