Despite MusicNet deal, EMI licenses to Pressplay

EMI Recorded Music announced Tuesday that it sealed a licensing deal with online music subscription service Pressplay, even though it already jumped into bed with rival music service MusicNet.

EMI appears to be playing for both teams as Pressplay and MusicNet get ready to launch later this year. Pressplay was formed by Vivendi Universal SA and Sony Music Entertainment Inc., and MusicNet is backed by Bertelsmann AG, AOL Time Warner Inc., RealNetworks Inc. and EMI Recorded Music parent company EMI Group PLC.

The nonexclusive agreement gives Pressplay access to EMI's broad music catalog, featuring artists such as Janet Jackson, Snoop Dogg and Lenny Kravitz. EMI's catalog will add some 50,000 songs to Pressplay's musical arsenal, which is expected to total about 125,000 songs when the service launches, a Pressplay representative said.

EMI's signing with Pressplay also marks the beginning of what some analysts expect to be a convergence of online music. Although neither Pressplay nor MusicNet are live yet, both are reportedly under preliminary investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for antitrust concerns.

Executives representing both services have mentioned that they could cross-license each other in the future, spurring fears of an online music monopoly.

But despite some industry-watchers' concerns, EMI Recorded Music Senior Vice President of New Media Jay Samit pointed out that EMI is already associated with 40 online music sites, ranging from Internet-enabled jukeboxes to Streamwaves, an up-and-running, Dallas-based online subscription site. In addition, EMI signed with nascent subscription service FullAudio Inc. last June.

"Unless (online music sites) have all the music that fans expect, there will be problems," Samit said, noting that it would be against the labels' best interests to limit their online distribution channels.

In terms of protecting content, Samit said that EMI supports a variety of digital rights management technologies, depending on what each service uses.

"Our strategy at EMI is to make buying music as easy as stealing it and stealing it a hell of a lot harder," Samit said.

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