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EMI steps up for ad-supported streaming music

Record label is the third of the majors to sign licensing deals with social-networking site Imeem.

The music industry continues to take baby steps toward ad-supported music as EMI has become the third major record label to license songs to social-networking site Imeem.

The companies said on Monday that Imeem users will be allowed to upload EMI-produced songs to the site. The ad-supported service is free to users and Imeem plans to share ad revenue with the labels. Sony BMG and Warner Music Group previously cut similar deals with Imeem. Users can post the music to their personal pages and share the music with friends, but the offering only allows them to stream music and doesn't include downloads.

Some might be misled into believing that Imeem would appear to be outpacing SpiralFrog, a company that attracted much fanfare and scrutiny a year ago for ballyhooing an ad-supported music service. New York-based SpiralFrog has emerged as the standard bearer for ad-supported music but has managed to sign only one major label to a licensing deal: Universal Music Group.

The difference between Imeem and SpiralFrog comes down to streaming. SpiralFrog offers free downloads as long as customers are willing to sit through some ads. One of the sticking points that some record executives have about SpiralFrog is that they hesitate to attach the word "free" around their music. With millions obtaining songs for free from illegal file sharing, music-industry honchos don't want to perpetuate the perception that songs are valueless.

Imeem, headquartered in San Francisco, is different in that it offers music but not to own. The service is meant to help people discover songs, and Imeem has supplied links to iTunes and Amazon in case users wish to buy a song.

Who knows, should Imeem's music offering succeed, perhaps that will help record executives grow more comfortable with ad-supported downloads.