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RealNetworks strikes deals with Sony, Universal

The streaming software maker teams with Universal Music and Sony as part of its ongoing effort to be a major player in the online music market.

Streaming software maker RealNetworks today announced partnerships with music giants Universal Music Group and Sony as part of its ongoing effort to be a major player in the online music market.

Music fans will be able to use RealNetworks' RealJukebox software to download songs from Universal's catalog. Fans will be able to play back and store songs by Universal artists such as Aerosmith, Dr. Dre, Nine Inch Nails, Sting and Hank Williams.

RealJukebox will incorporate a Universal-supported secure download format. In addition, Universal will market RealJukebox throughout its sites and offline.

"This alliance augments our ability to reach music consumers and, in essence, it allows us to provide more music to more people," Edgar Bronfman Jr., chief executive of Universal parent Seagram, said in a statement. "Additionally, the alliance underscores our commitment to provide the most compelling consumer music experiences and to protect our artists' vision in the digital age."

Today's announcement coincided with the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The announcement also marks the latest in a series of moves by the "Big Five" record labels to provide Net users access to their song catalogs.

Major record labels and technology companies are increasingly on a path toward convergence. Labels need technology companies to gain a stronger foothold on the Web to distribute and promote their artists. At the same time, Web music companies need major artists on their sites to lure users.

Now the two paths are coming together. Earlier this week, online music provider Artistdirect.com signed a major alliance with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal, BMG Entertainment and Warner Music Group in a deal that included a $97.5 million equity investment. Furthermore, Net music appliances and devices have become one of the centerpieces of this year's Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

But as the music and technology industries revel in their newfound relationships, the online music industry remains a market for tech-savvy early adopters. Piracy concerns remain an issue with the labels, and device manufacturers experienced surprisingly lackluster sales this holiday season.

RealNetworks also said it will begin incorporating Sony's music technologies into RealJukebox, including ATRAC3, its sound compression format, and its OpenMG copyright protection technology. The deal will allow RealJukebox users to transfer music files onto Sony's portable devices such as its Memory Stick Walkman and its VAIO Music Clip.

RealJukebox is an application that converts, or "rips," compact discs and translates them into a digital file format. It also allows listeners to download digital music files off the Internet and transfer their audio files to portable devices.

Along with the new music initiatives, RealNetworks released an upgrade for RealJukebox. Users can now record audio files from RealJukebox onto CDs using technology from Adaptec. In addition, audio files can be downloaded to Iomega's storage products, such as its Zip, Jaz and Clik drives.