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Universal is finally set to follow Sony and EMI with the launch of a digital music download service of its own.

The music company, one of the world's 'big five' recording operations, will launch its service, codenamed Bluematter, this week - more than seven months after it originally planned.

This time last year, Universal said it would launch a full digital music service by the end of 1999. December rolled by, and there was still no service. And then Universal's parent, drinks giant Seagram, got involved in merger talks with France's Vivendi.

The new service, which is being called a 'trial' by Universal, will offer 60-odd songs, rather less than the 100 albums being offered by EMI. However, Universal said it will add new songs to the roster weekly, in preparation for a full-scale roll-out sometime in the autumn.

The trial at least will offer tracks in RealNetworks proprietory format, though Universal executive VP Heather Myers said other formats would be considered, according to customer feedback. Copyright protection technology will be provided by Intertrust, a long-term partner with Universal on digital music.

Like EMI's service, Universal's Bluematter will be primarily be offered through third-parties, in particular online retailers. Tracks will also be sold by Universal's joint venture with fellow 'big fiver' Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), GetMusic. ®

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