Universal Music to offer a la carte music downloads

In a move apparently aimed at cutting peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file sharing networks off at the pass, Universal Music Group (UMG) has began offering a la carte digital downloads via a slew of retail and music Web sites.

The music powerhouse said Wednesday it is making more than 43,000 tracks available for US$0.99 each, or US$9.99 for albums. The downloads are burnable to CDs and can be transferred to secure portable devices, UMG said.

The New York company is offering tracks from a broad range of artists, including rapper de jour Eminem, Diana Krall, and U2, as well as country, classical, jazz and blues artists.

The tracks are being offered in Liquid Audio and Windows Media Audio formats.

"This is a watershed moment," UMG eLabs President Larry Kenswil said in a statement. "Universal is committed to making every recording it controls available for Internet distribution."

The tracks will be offered through a host of sites, including ones run by MP3.com Inc., Tower Records and Rolling Stone. A complete list of sites offering downloads from UMG is available here.

The wide distribution of the company's digital downloads comes less than a month after Listen.com's Rhpasody music subscription service began offering US$0.99 downloads from UMG and other big labels.

By giving the nod to online distribution, UMG is hoping to sway P-to-P file traders away from music piracy by offering them secure and legal copies of music. Although P-to-P networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus are bustling with activity, including the illegal trading of music, the files traded over the networks are not always secure or are incorrectly identified.

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