MP3.com founder to start new music venture

Michael Robertson, the founder of MP3.com and head of desktop Linux company Linspire, on Thursday next week plans to launch a new music download company and service called MP3tunes.

Breaking with other online music services, such as Apple Computer's iTunes and Microsoft's MSN Music Store, MP3tunes will not use a format with digital rights management (DRM) technology to copy-protect the tracks it sells for download, but instead will use the popular MP3 format without DRM, Robertson said in an interview.

At launch, MP3tunes will offer a few hundred thousand tracks from independent labels and artists at a cost of US$0.88 per track or US$8.88 per album, Robertson said. MP3tunes has yet to approach the major record labels, he said.

Because the tracks will be offered in MP3 format, buyers can use the music they purchase on virtually any digital music player or computer, as well as make unlimited copies of their songs and burn their music onto CD, Robertson said. Most other online music sellers restrict what users can do with their songs.

"I don't want a world where every piece of music or every device I buy has a fruit logo on it," Robertson said, referring to Apple. The computer vendor has been criticised for using DRM technology so tracks bought in its iTunes music store can be played only on its iPod portable media player and not on any other portable music player.

"I am more interested in a world where consumers have a choice: They can choose any portable player, any piece of software, any operating system, and listen to their music," Robertson said. "That is what MP3 brings."

Robertson is hopeful that major record labels will want to offer their music through MP3tunes even though the service lacks copyright protection. "Obviously that would be a change from where they are at. They have licensed their music to DRM-based systems, but not to non-DRM-based systems. We are trying to push the envelope."

In addition to the music download service, Robertson next week plans to unveil a new device called the MP3beamer. The beamer will be a hub for digital music that can be connected to a home stereo and other devices as well as let consumers access their music from multiple locations, Robertson said.

The MP3beamer is scheduled to be available next week from online retailers. Further details are set to be announced next week.

Robertson founded MP3.com in 1997. The site came under attack from the record industry for a service that allowed users to get online access to music they owned on CDs. MP3.com was ultimately sold to Vivendi Universal in 2001 in a deal valued at US$372 million, a windfall for Robertson.

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