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Napster has become a distributor for the music industry's MusicNet venture, putting it on a par with corporate beasts AOL and RealNetworks.

MusicNet is backed by three of the main five record companies: AOL Time Warner, EMI and BMG Entertainment. It will be a music streaming and download thing, and is expected to launch near the end of summer. The deal will see Napster relaunch in name only as a subscription-based service.

Napster is also reportedly talking to Microsoft over fee-charging software. How much, if any, of the original Napster free file-swapping software will remain is open to question.

Despite the deal only being done to remove all the legal threats and court orders hanging over Napster, Napster's chief exec and MusicNet's chief exec decided to ignore history and reality in their prepared quotes:

"We are pleased to be able to offer Napster members access to the MusicNet service," said Hank Barry (Napster).

"Today's announcement is great for consumers, for artists and for the recording industry," said Rob Glaser (MusicNet and, incidentally, RealNetworks).

Despite the deal, Napster is still expected in court for a "compliance hearing" today to make sure it has removed all "banned" songs. The court order still holds but it seems unlikely that even if Napster has failed to remove such songs that it will go any further.

The other two main record companies - Sony and Vivendi - have set up 'rival' company Duet for online music but are in talks with MusicNet to make it all one happy duopoly.

EMI gets in there first

And part of the future of controlling music in the digital age has already been announced by EMI. It will team up with Roxio to set up a CD-burning system that keeps copyright intact, EMI announced yesterday.

Roxio intends to write software that will allows users to download music off the Internet from EMI and then burn this onto a CD. This CD can then be played in any normal device. However, the system will incorporate encrypted data on the CD that prevents it being copied or ripped into MP3, at least that's what euro chief of Roxio Harm Meyer said.

Harm went on to say: "It would all be transparent to the user - they would go to the EMI site and buy songs on a pay-as-you-go basis, download those to their computer, listen to them there and, if they wanted, they could then burn it on to a recordable CD and listen to it wherever. However, in between the tracks we would encode a scrambled digital signal that would prevent it being copied."

Let's hope that Roxio does a better job with the software than it did with the latest version of Easy CD Creator which has caused widespread difficulties due to several components clashing with Windows OSes. ®

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