Universal's free music subscription trial is still available

But experts believe that it'll take more than a few songs to make users cough up their cash

Despite reports that it was limited to 5,000 users, music fans can still sign up to Universal Music's free online subscription trial.

The scheme is dubbed the Farmclub Music Service. It gives free access to 20,000 songs from Universal's catalogue, which are streamed over RealAudio. The music is digitally protected to prevent it being saved to a hard drive.

To check out the trial, go to www.farmclub.com/subscription/beta.html.

Several music labels, including Universal Music, sued MP3.com for copyright violation. Sony, Time Warner, EMI and Bertelsmann all reached agreements allowing the Web site to pay royalties to use their material. However, Universal did not make a deal and was awarded damages that could total $250m (about £155m).

Malcolm Maclachlan, media eCommerce analyst at IDC, believes that the reasons behind Universal's failure to reach agreement with MP3.com are now obvious. "This does help make it clear why Universal didn't bother to go through with a settlement with MP3.com -- they decided they didn't need them to run a stream-on-demand service," he said.

Universal, which isn't officially commenting on the trial, is expected to charge $15 per month once the service is launched. Maclachlan doesn't think Universal is offering enough to entice many users to pay up. "There are no downloads, so the songs aren't portable. Also, it's only Universal content. People don't think of labels as brands, they want to have access to essentially everything in one place."

Back in August Andy Strickland, editor of Dotmusic, claimed that music labels should licence their content through third parties with established Web presence rather than trying to distribute them online themselves.

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