Wippit to launch at 4pm - sans major labels

Britain's legal Napster alternative offers cut-priced deals for early subscribers, but still hasn't sorted out those all-important deals with the record labels

The commercial launch of Wippit's legal music file-sharing will go ahead as planned at 4pm on Thursday, with the company offering generous discounts to the first 1,000 subscribers. The company still hasn't signed an agreement with a major record label yet, though, which may discourage some consumers from signing up.

Despite still being in negotiations with two record labels, Wippit's chief executive Paul Myers took the decision to launch the service. "It's not enough just to promise a service some time in the distant, near future. We're doing it and we're doing it from today," said Myers. "Some of our techies are asleep under their desks," Myers added, explaining that his staff have been working hard to get the service ready in time.

Thanks to a deal with the Association of Independent Musicians, Wippit can offer songs from over 550 "indie" labels, including big-names stars such as Paul Oakenfold, Stereophonics and Belle & Sebastian.

The first 1,000 people to sign up to Wippit will only have to pay £10 for an annual membership, with the second 1,000 subscriptions being available for £20, and the third 1,000 for £30. Full-price membership will cost £50 for one year. "£50 is only the cost of four CDs," points out Myers. Subscribers will also receive £30 worth of mobile phone ring tones when they join Wippit.

Wippit's service allows users to download music files freely from each other, a la Napster, but with an important difference. A song can only be shared across the Wippit network if the record label that owns the copyright has agreed that its content can be included on the service. In return, Wippit will pay a royalty to the label.

A deal with at least one major record label could be announced "within days", according to Myers "With one label we're just working out the terms and conditions, and making sure everything is OK," he told ZDNet UK.

Some experts believe that Wippit will need at least one deal with a major record label if it is to offer enough songs to tempt people to part with hard cash for a service which, until recently, Napster users were enjoying for free.

After a slow start, the labels are now getting heavily involved with the digital music scene, with MusicNet and Pressplay both expected to launch soon. Pressplay is a joint deal between Sony and Vivendi Universal, while MusicNet is backed by EMI, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and RealNetworks. EMI announced earlier this week that its content would be offered on both services, which are expected to launch within months.

ZDNet News readers can sign up to Wippit by visiting www.wippit.com.

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