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News Corp's social networking heavyweight Myspace has taken its inevitable plunge into the commercial music businesses.

MySpace announced today it is launching MySpace Music, a joint venture with three of the four biggest music labels backing its new service.

Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group will together wage war against iTunes for digital music distribution supremacy on the music portal. EMI is the lone holdout of the big four big music labels, so MySpace has some wooing to do as the site rolls out over the next three to four months.

MySpace Music will peddle DRM-free downloads, ringtones, concert tickets, t-shirts and other merchandise, as well as offer free streaming music from the full breadth of the labels' catalogues. The service also promises an ability to share customized playlists with others.

MySpace has an enormous online music community — which until recently the music industry has fiercely combated. Before the deal could go through Wednesday, Universal Music had to agreedto settle a 2006 copyright infringement lawsuit against MySpace. Financials were not disclosed, but its understood News Corp. shelled out a large sum of cash to make it go away.

The social site's music channel claims nearly 30 million unique monthly visitors and more than five million artists under its wing. With the combined libraries of Sony, Universal and Warner injected into the mix, MySpace Music now has both the audience and licensing muscle that could surpass the iTunes music store. Record labels have been increasingly fearful of Apple's influence on the business as iTunes inches closer to becoming the leader in global music sales.

There's been some notable efforts such as Amazon's music store. None yet has posed a major threat to the online dominance of iTunes, which jumped past Wal-Mart in January to become America's biggest music retailer.

MySpace Music will form a new company based in Los Angeles, with its own executive team to oversee the business. Over the next few months, content and functionality will be added to MySpace's music channels. ®

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