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UK retail giant Tesco today launched itself into the digital music market today with a Windows-only "instant music" offering pitched against rival services from Woolworths, HMV, Virgin and others.

The service covers the UK and Ireland, and currently offers up to 400,000 songs from major labels and indies at 79p a throw. Albums are priced from £7.99. Purchases count toward regular Tesco customers' Clubcard loyalty scheme points.

Tracks are encoded at 192Kbps using WMA. They are DRM protected, limiting the number of times a song can be burned to CD or transferred to a portable music player - typically three times in each case, according to Tesco's downloads site.

The service is run by Cable & Wireless, Tesco's existing telecoms partner, but powered by German digital music provider 24/7 MusicShop, which conversely, relies on C&W's infrastructure.

Tesco's launch comes less than a month after Woolworths opened its own online store, built by UK-based distributor Digital Distribution Domain (DX3). Record retailers HMV and Virgin both operate download stores run by US-based Loudeye's European subsidiary, On Demand Distribution (OD2), though Virgin will shift to Loudeye rival, MusicNet, when it launches Virgin Digital in the UK. UK consumer electronics retail group Dixons, meanwhile, is promoting Napster. ®

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Music biz in unauthorised downloads shock
Music sales rise despite RIAA's best efforts
Microsoft moves in on music downloads
Virgin launches digital music service
iTunes Japan hits 'inadequate DRM' hurdle
T-Mobile preps music download service
HMV iPods not compatible with store's music downloads

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