BTopenworld trials music subscription service

The ISP aims to out-Napster Napster, with its service that will let users download legitimate music over the Net for a monthly subsciption

BTopenworld is trialling a music subscription service that will allow subscribers on its broadband and narrowband services to download paid-for music over the Internet, but Linux users will be cut out of the loop.

Numerous music-swapping services, epitomised by Napster, have sprung up in recent years, but BT is hoping to out-Napster the peer-to-peer services with its own subscription service. "Our real aim is to make the service easier to use and better than the P2P services (such as Napster)," said Ben Drury, head of music at BTopenworld. "The problem with P2P service is that they are limited by the connections in between the two peers, and there are issues of security, quality and viruses."

The trial is currently internal-only, and non-commercial. But when it launches, customers will be asked to pay a subscription of around £5 to £10 a month. For this, they will be able to stream samples of tracks, or download complete tracks. "There are still many issues to resolve," Drury. "There are many models that could be tried; a monthly rental model where the music expires after a month, or one where you buy the music outright." Drury stressed that the pricing and deals that will be offered have not yet been finalised.

So far, BTopenworld has signed up two of the major record labels; Warner Music Group, which handles stars from Missy Elliot to Metallica, and Bertelsmann Media Group, with names that include Puff Daddy and Santana. It has also signed up the Association of Independent Musicians. AIM represents over 550 "indie" labels, including big-names stars such as Paul Oakenfold and Stereophonics.

BTopenworld has produced a customised version of Windows Media Player 7 to deal with the digital rights management technology that protects the music. Windows Media Player 7 will play back music in Windows Media Audio and MP3 formats, as well as music from CDs. But it will not play back RealPlayer content, and even though RealPlayer can play back Windows Media Audio, Microsoft has not licensed its WMA software development kit for Linux, so Linux users will not be able to buy content protected by Microsoft's Digital Rights Management.

Linux users will, however, be able to download paid-for music from Warner Brothers and Bertelsmann's labels, through RealNetworks' RealOne Music service. RealOne is currently in preview mode and is due to launch for the Windows platform in November. A Linux version is expected early next year. RealNetworks has signed up MusicNet, allowing consumers to stream and download music from the catalogues of Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI and others. Digital rights management for this service will be handled by the RealNetworks' RealSystem Media Commerce Suite.

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