Amazon launches an iTunes rivalry

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SEATTLE - Web retailer Amazon.com Inc. launched its

much-anticipated digital music store yesterday with nearly 2.3 million songs,

none of them protected against copying.

The store, Amazon MP3, lets shoppers buy and download individual songs or

entire albums. The tracks can be copied to multiple computers, burned onto CDs

and played on most types of PCs and portable devices, including Apple Inc.'s

iPod and Microsoft Corp.'s Zune.

Songs cost 89 cents to 99 cents each and albums sell for $5.99 to $9.99.

Major music labels Universal Music Group and EMI Music Publishing have

signed on to sell their tracks on Amazon, as have thousands of independent

labels. The company said several smaller labels are selling their music without

copy protection for the first time on the Amazon store, including Rounder

Records and Trojan Records.

Amazon's store competes with Apple's market-leading iTunes, which is also

offering some songs without so-called digital rights management technology,

which prevents unauthorized copies from playing.

Although DRM helps stem illegal copying, it can frustrate consumers by

limiting the type of device or number of computers on which they can listen to

music. Copy-protected songs sold through iTunes generally won't play on devices

other than the iPod, and iPods won't play DRM-enabled songs bought at rival

music stores.

EMusic.com Inc., another popular download site, also sells tracks in the

DRM-free MP3 format but, like Amazon's store, doesn't offer music from some

major labels that still require anti-piracy locks.

Bill Carr, Amazon's vice president for digital music, said it will be up to

customers to use the music they buy legally.

"By and large, most customers just want a great, legitimate way to buy the

music they want," Carr said. "What the vast majority of labels believe is that

they will sell more music by giving customers what they want...by enabling

DRM-free MP3 - than by continuing to confuse customers or force them to choose

methods that are not legal, because the legitimate alternatives are not good."

But David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Research, said in an interview that

"having two out of four labels doesn't cut it." Warner Music Group Corp. and

Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which is owned by Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG,

have not agreed to sell music on Amazon MP3, and Card pointed out that

Universal and EMI have made only parts of their catalogs available without copy

protection.

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