Universal Music Leaps into Digital Downloads

Universal Music Group (UMG) said late Tuesday that it will begin offering digital downloads later this week.

The announcement comes less than one week after a U.S. appellate court allowed controversial music swapping site Napster to remain online until a trial in the landmark case is completed. Napster, which allows users to swap digital MP3 files of their favorite artists without paying per use, had been ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel to pull the plug by midnight Friday. The injunction was based on the lower court’s finding that Napster was not likely to prevail at trial in the pending copyright infringement case brought by the major record labels.

Bluematter Tunes

Instead of using the popular MP3 format for downloading music, UMG will use its proprietary bluematter format. According to the record company, this method will allow for downloads of enhanced multimedia content, such as biographies, photos, lyrics and credits.

UMG, owned by Seagram Company, partnered with such digital technology heavyweights as InterTrust Technologies Group, Magex and RealNetworks to develop bluematter.

“Universal is embracing multiple digital strategies, beginning with our multimedia download product bluematter,” said Heather Myers, executive vice president and general manager of Universal Music’s GLOBALe.

Digital Variety

Universal Music Group will launch trials with close to 60 tracks from a variety of artists, including Blink 182, George Benson, Live, Luciano Pavarotti, 98 Degrees, Marvin Gaye and Smash Mouth. The company plans to add tracks as the program rolls out in earnest this fall.

Later this week, music will be available for downloading at some of UMG’s affiliate sites, including Penny Lane Records, ARTISTdirect and Excite@Home.

Pushing E-Distribution Trends

This instance is not the first time UMG has acted to integrate new technology into the record business.

In June, the company announced an agreement with information services company RedDotNet to provide digital downloads of Universal Music Group’s catalog into retail stores via RedDotNet’s proprietary system.

The high-speed network connects retailers to UMG’s digitized content servers via in-store stations, which enable customers to preview musical selections and directs them to the location of the product within the store. The satellite stations also provide for real-time manufacturing capabilities, allowing the store to burn CDs instantly and print cover graphics with liner notes.

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