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Datz Music Lounge: Unlimited MP3s from EMI and Warner

Datz Music Lounge launches this weekend, offering unlimited access to MP3s from EMI, Warner Music and a bunch of independent labels, for £99 a year. But will it get the kids off LimeWire?

A new music service called Datz Music Lounge is set to launch this weekend, offering unlimited downloads of around 1.4 million songs from EMI, Warner Music and a string of independents, for a one-off cost of £99.

The service lasts for 12 months, in which time users can download songs from the likes of Madonna, Elvis, The Kooks, Katy Perry, Phil Collins and Kylie, all of which are encoded between 256Kbps and 320Kbps MP3 format, with not a hint of DRM. After the first 12 months, all your music is still yours to keep; it won't expire if you don't sign up again.

Access to the Datz Music Lounge will be sold as an over-the-counter box, initially from the Datz Web site and about 180 Sainsbury's stores in the UK. It contains the software required for downloading music, and a secure USB key that must be inserted into the computer to grant access to the music -- a bank-standard technology provided by SafeNet.

Secure USB

We spoke on the phone to Datz managing director Michael Richardson, who explained the USB key idea was to prevent one user sharing more traditional access codes with other people.

It also ties the service to just two computers, not including Macs at present. However, if you buy a new computer or if your old one explodes, it just takes a phone call to a Datz service number to reset this limit.

In the grand scheme of things we're far more supportive of this technology than we are of DRM being wrapped around the music. Unlike DRM, a secure USB key won't directly punish paying customers by dictating what they can and can't do with music.

But there's nothing to stop one user downloading 100,000 songs and passing them around the campus. This 'unlimited' service, we're told, means 'unlimited'. If you want to download 100,000 songs, go ahead. Richardson specified that the only safeguards in place are to stop scripts and bots automatically downloading songs 24/7. We were also told, however, that some downloads may be watermarked by the labels to track their sharing.

Limited availability

Initially there will be 100,000 packs made available. We had to ask whether Datz thought kids would rather pay a hundred quid to access a couple of million songs, or zero quid to use LimeWire for access to millions more. But apparently the main target market is parents: a £99 Christmas present, and your kids won't use illegal P2P that may get your Internet cut off.

It's a smart idea, but it won't take long for a couple of teenagers to search for music published by Universal or Sony -- the two major labels not currently involved in Datz Music Lounge -- to be disappointed, lose faith and revert to BitTorrent.

In our opinion

We're behind the concept, and we admire the sentiment of offering unlimited downloads in a universal, non-restrictive format that doesn't solely punish honest customers. But to see great success in challenging existing P2P networks or even iTunes, the catalogue must expand to incorporate all four majors.

Richardson couldn't comment on whether Datz was in talks with Sony or Universal, but stated he'd be delighted to welcome them into the service, and noted the service is expected to quickly grow to offer over four million songs.

So we put the question over to you: is this something you'd invest in? Can it challenge Napster, iTunes, Comes With Music and LimeWire? Would you buy this for your kids? Let us know in the comments, or head over to our forums to discuss with the rest of the CNET UK community.