Tech Industry

Is Sony planning downloadable music?

According to one report, Sony's Japanese entertainment unit is considering distributing music on the Net--but whether the report is true remains unclear.

A press report sparked confusion today as to whether Sony Corporation's Japanese entertainment unit is planning to offer downloadable music on the Net.

According to the report, Sony Music Entertainment of Japan is considering a plan to allow MiniDisc users in that country to lift music off the Net.

Sony Music Entertainment, a separate, U.S.-based company, later issued a statement saying that Sony Music Entertainment of Japan had announced only that it will distribute copies of a "multimedia software piece" in CD-EXTRA format, not on MiniDisc. The software is not related to electronic music distribution, the company said.

But early Friday, the Associated Press cited a report in the Japanese newspaper Asahi that Sony Music Entertainment of Japan was conducting feasibility studies on whether to offer downloadable music to Internet users in Japan. The story, which quoted spokesman Kyouhei Akai, said that Sony was reviewing potential problems, including the difficulty of obtaining rights to distribute music over the Internet.

No one at the Japanese company, which is 71 percent owned by Sony Corporation, could be reached for comment today. The U.S. company, wholly owned by Sony Corporation, "has not made any announcements with regard to digital distribution" of music, its statement read.

If Sony were to offer downloadable music, it would mark the first time a major record company fully endorsed the Internet as a legitimate platform for music distribution. The recording industry, citing fears of music piracy and theft, generally has worked to slow efforts to offer music on the Net.

The most popular format for online distribution is MP3, which compresses sound files so they can be downloaded to a PC hard drive. Sony's adoption of Net downloads "would be a move in the right direction," said Michael Robertson, chief executive of MP3.com, which offers legitimate music downloads. "They [currently] have a company mandate of no full length songs on the Internet, in any format."

Net downloads also could be a way to attract more users to the MiniDisc format, which has faltered outside Japan, according to Ted Pine of InfoTech, a digital media research firm.

But MP3 has redrawn the landscape, said Pine, and Sony, if it is indeed studying the matter, may be looking at Net downloads as a way to respond.