Napster 2.0 cued up for holiday relaunch

Napster is set to rise like a phoenix from the ashes this Christmas holiday season, but this time with its legal affairs in check, Napster owner Roxio said Monday.

The fallen song-swapping service, which was knocked offline last year after a prolonged legal battle with the record industry over copyright infringement allegations, will re-emerge as a legal paid music service Napster 2.0.

At launch, the new Napster will boast access to up to 500,000 tracks through individual download, monthly subscription of Internet radio, Roxio said.

The service will be offering its music content through deals with all five major record labels and a variety of independent labels, Roxio said, in stark contrast to the service's freewheeling days when it offered users the ability to trade their music for free.

Roxio has been laying the groundwork for a Napster relaunch since it bought the service's remaining assets late last year. Since then, it scooped up online music subscription service Pressplay for US$39.5 million and added eLabs president and music veteran Larry Kenswil to its board. ELabs is the new-media and technologies division of Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group.

Roxio Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Chris Gorog said that the early prototypes of Napster 2.0 are progressing well and that more details of the service will be revealed closer to launch.

Speaking at the Jupiter Plug.In music conference in New York, Gorog offered few details about the new Napster, but said that his experience with PressPlay has shown that online services need to make buying music as easy as possible.

"It's not about analyzing the business model du jour," Gorog said in the conference's keynote address. Consumers should be able to buy and listen to music online the way they find most convenient, he said. "There have to be no obstacles to downloading music, you should be able to access any song you want, pay a fair fee, and leave. Is it about a la carte? Of course it is. Are subscriptions an important part of it? Yes."

Gorog said that a European launch of the new Napster would take place within a year after the U.S. launch, and the Canadian launch would take place before that. He did not specify a timeframe for launch of the service outside of North America and Europe.

Gorog hinted that Napster will let consumers download music and play songs on a variety of different devices, though he did not specify the legal conditions or technology that would allow this to happen.

"It's not about being tethered to the music, it's all about the music being tethered to the individual... and within the next 12 months Napster will be delivering on this vision."

Of online users surveyed in several polls commissioned by Roxio, 97 percent of the respondents recognized the Napster name, 73 percent had positive feelings about it and 47 percent said they would pay for a resuscitated Napster service, Gorog said.

When asked whether the new Napster would use file-sharing technology however, Gorog said in the future "it may very well" but that the initial launch would work in client-server mode.

Once Napster launches, current Pressplay services will operate under the Napster name, according to company officials.

Napster 2.0 will be available at http://www.napster.com.

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