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Universal Music Group has finally latched on to one of the key strengths of digital music downloads: you can offer stacks of tracks that would never be heard otherwise because they're economically impractical to release in physical form.

UMG yesterday said it would offer for download around 100,000 songs that are currently unavailable on CD. Up for grabs will be lesser-known works from the likes of Nirvana (the original 1960s psychedelic band, not the Seattle Grungemeisters), Chris de Burgh, Big Country and Marianne Faithfull.

Other bands down for inclusion in the so-called "digital archeology" programme include The Lilac Time, Marc Almond, Godley and Creme, Fairport Convention, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jacques Brel, Nana Mouskouri, Eddy Mitchell, and Brigitte Bardot.

"This programme will offer material that, in some cases, goes back to the early days of recorded music," Barney Wragg, senior vice-president of UMG's eLabs division said in a statement.

The scheme will take three to four years to complete, UMG said, with the first 3,000 tracks due to go online from the middle of February.

UMG didn't say which digital music services would sell its "digital archeology" content on to buyers, but since all the key online music providers - including iTunes, Napster, Wippit, Virgin Digital and HMV - offer UMG material, it's hoped they will pick up on the offer. ®

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