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Firms ink agreement on music download

VIRGIN Media Inc, the cable TV operator owned by entrepreneur Richard Branson, yesterday launched a new kind of music download subscription service with Universal Music Group, the world's largest music company.

The service, described by the companies as a world first, will allow Virgin Media's broadband customers in Britain to stream and download as many songs and albums as they like from Universal's catalog for a fee.

The music will be available to download in an MP3 format, letting buyers listen on a range of devices, including the iPod, mobile phones, PCs and other MP3 players.

The subscription service, due to be available later this year, comes as the music industry fights a losing battle against illegal downloading of music.

Revenue from digital music sales rose 25 percent last year to US$3.7 billion, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. But those legitimate music sales did not come close to offsetting the billions of dollars being lost to music piracy - an estimated 95 percent of music downloads are still unauthorized.

Bright future

IFPI Chairman John Kennedy said the new Virgin-Universal deal was "the kind of partnership" between a music company and an Internet service provider that he expects to shape the future of the music business internationally.

The IFPI has been harshly critical of ISPs in the past for exploiting loopholes in copyright laws to allow them to avoid clamping down on people who illegally download music using their services.

"The deal epitomizes the way in which the music business is adapting to the digital world, embracing new business models and responding to the changing needs of consumers," Kennedy said of the new service.


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