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In Australia, Microsoft tunes in Net music

Web site Ninemsn, a joint venture between the software giant and an Australian media company, says it will sell music from the top five record labels starting early next year.

Australian Web site Ninemsn has announced that it will launch an online music store that will sell music from the big five record labels.

Due for launch early next year, the site will offer songs from BMG Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Group, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, as well as from independent labels. The new store will be powered by OD2, a European online music distributor. In all, 250,000 tracks will be available online.

OD2 Chief Executive Charles Grimsdale said the high number of tracks available for download will be the key to the new online store's success. "We know from monitoring sales figures in both Europe and North America that take-up is directly related to the number of commercial tracks available," he said.

Sydney-based Ninemsn, a joint venture between Microsoft and Australian media company Publishing and Broadcasting, said it will continue to offer free music clips, interviews, previews and online chat sessions with celebrities.

Record labels have a long history of resisting online distribution, particularly through peer-to-peer services. The U.S.-based Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) successfully

Microsoft said last month that it planned to open a music store online next year but did not give any details about the site.

The RIAA has long argued that Internet piracy through the Internet has eroded sales. However, Domenic Carosa, chief executive of local online music distributor Destra, says the piracy phenomenon results from a lack of consumer choice.

"Piracy is hurting sales at this particular point in time (because) there is no other option. If you want music in a digital format, what options do you currently have? Piracy," Carosa said during an interview in May.

Carosa called the launch of the music store a positive sign for competition in the online music industry. "I think ultimately this is good for the consumer," he said.

The Ninemsn announcement follows the introduction of Apple Computer's iTunes service in the United States earlier this year. That service offers music for download at 99 cents per track.

Though the songs are copy-protected by digital rights management (DRM) software, the hacker responsible for breaking the DVD code, Jon Johansen, has used by the iTunes service, allowing the purchasers of protected music to copy and share the tracks.

ZDNet Australia staff reported from Sydney.