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Sony music download service to launch in June

Will only support own-brand music player

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Sony today confirmed that it will launch its European digital music download service, Sony Connect, in June.

Connect will be made available to music buyers in the UK, France and Germany, who will have the pick of over 300,000 songs. The catalogue includes bands signed to independent labels as well as Sony's own roster of artists. Sony already has physical distribution deals with a number of small labels, so it's likely these arrangements will be matched in the digital domain by Connect.

"We will offer a unique catalogue proposition for each country which includes not only international but also a wealth of local artists," said Robert Ashcroft, senior VP at Sony Network Services Europe, which is running Connect.

Each song will be offered in Sony's ATRAC 3 format, the compressed digital music technology that's the basis of the company's MiniDisc products. While tracks will be initially downloaded to a PC, they can only be transferred to "secure Sony portable audio products". Indeed, Sony is using the service to tout its Hi-MD high-capacity MiniDisc players.

Prices will start at 79 pence in the UK and 99 cents in Europe, Sony said. Tracks are copy-protected using Sony's own Open Magic Gate (OpenMG) DRM system, and users will need to download songs through the company's SonicStage jukebox and CD burning app. A new version, 2.0, will be required to use Connect. At this stage, it's not clear how many times songs will be allowed to be burned, copied to Sony MD players or shared with other, local PCs. Sony bundles SonicStage with its Vaio PCs. We somehow doubt it will offer a Mac version.

Sony Connect is expected to launch in the US in due course. The arrival of the European store will be keenly awaited by a number of digital music companies and market watchers who believe Sony will not allow other players to offer its catalogue of songs until it has launched its service.

Many observer says the European Commission will examin the launch of Sony Connect in its investigation of the music company's proposed merger with Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG). ®

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