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Sony commits to online music sales

December launch likely to involve Net Walkman release too

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Sony will begin selling and delivering music via the Internet in December, the Japanese wing of the company's music division said yesterday. The first batch of tracks, including new releases and back catalogue material, will be offered to Japanese customers, but it's going to be difficult to prevent overseas buyers from using the service. Prices will range from Y200 to Y500 ($1.70 to $4.40) per track. Sony didn't say which format it would use to encode the tracks it will offer, but it did say it would deliver CD-quality audio. That rules out MP3 and ought to rule out Microsoft's MSAudio, but since Sony said in May that it will support that format, it's probably the one the company will offer in December. Whichever format Sony selects, it will work within the framework set down by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). "We have to start selling music online, considering the prospects for an explosion of Internet usage and a proliferation of distribution technologies," a Sony music spokesman told newswires. "But we still face the challenge of protecting our copyrights and intellectual property." That's a telling statement. For all the music companies may dislike the Internet -- primarily because of the copyright issue -- they clearly realise they have to deal with this new distribution medium. In any case, Sony has two levels of interest here. Sony Music wants to make the most of the music distribution opportunity, and the company's hardware division wants to break into the player market. Earlier this year, Sony president Nobuyuki Idei as near as damn it announced the company's entry into the digital music player market, and while these two sectors of Sony's business aren't directly connected, launching both products together would clearly make a great deal of sense. A December launch would also put Sony ahead of consumer electronics rivals Philips and Matsushita, both of which are readying digital music players for release next year. Matsushita is also preparing its own music distribution service, so again, since Sony is doing the same, it's a good idea to get there first. ®

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