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The Beatles are in talks to make their music available legally for download on the Internet for the first time.

The band are considering their own branded store, possibly run by one of the existing providers, according to CNET, which broke the story. MSN is likely to emerge as the winner, according to anonymous sources cited by Reuters. MSN is opening an online music store later this year.

Discussions are being led by representatives of surviving band members Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, rather than EMI, their record label. Until now the surviving band members have refused licensing permission for online distribution. Getting the Beatles to back a legal download service, after rejecting the Internet for so long, would be a boost for the industry.

Any decision to choose a proprietary format, be it Microsoft or Apple, could focus attention on issues of interoperability. An added complication is that Apple Computer, provider of iTunes, is in legal dispute with the Beatles' company Apple Corporation over rights to the Apple name. ®

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