The move follows the detailed release last week of the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) specification for portable players. The spec surprised observers by its scant detail on copyright and its acceptance of MP3 downloads.
Universal is developing software to allow for digital downloads to a range of SDMI-compliant portable players from RioPort, Panasonic and Toshiba. The company claimed the software will be compatible with "a number of music distribution systems", although none are specified.
The decision marks a remarkably turn-around for the industry given it is only last October the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) was embroiled in a bitter court case to prevent shipment of Diamond's portable player, the Rio.
Despite the music industry's reluctant entry in the digital download space, president of global e-commerce at Universal Larry Kenswil acknowledged the "tremendous potential" of the digital music market and promised music fans "a great consumer experience".
E-commerce firm InterTrust will provide the copyright platform for the software. In a separate announcement BMG, Diamond, NatWest Magex and the iGroup all agreed to use InterTrust technology for their SDMI compliant music systems.