Elvis, but not as you know 'im

His aim is true: Costello joins MP3 bandwagon

The distribution of digital music got easier on Tuesday when Emusic -- formerly GoodNoise -- signed a deal to distribute post punk songster Elvis Costello's back catalogue in MP3 format.

Twelve of the artist's best-selling albums will be available for download from Emusic and its distribution partners, which include AltaVista. "This is a huge endorsement for downloadable music -- to have such a major artist choose to release such a large catalogue for sale in MP3," stated Emusic chief executive, Gene Hoffman. "It is a significant step forward," he added.

The albums, which range from 1977's My Aim is True to 1986's Blood & Chocolate, can be downloaded for $8.99 (£5.65) each.

Concerns over piracy mean that the traditional music industry is still hesitating in following digital distribution plans until the SDMI releases its final specifications. However, this is still some time away. The organisation on Monday announced a Call for Proposals for Phase II of the spec, which will allow players to detect and reject pirated copies of tracks. Final proposals, though, are not due until 18 June.

Although mainstream artists, such as David Bowie, have released online versions of album releases, Costello is the first to make such a mass of content available for digital distribution. The move may help convert other artists to the ex-punk's belief in the validity of digital music distribution. "Mere words cannot express," said Costello, "so see you in cyberspace. The future lies ahead."

Martin Brass, director of new media at the Media Research Information Bureau, says that although labels are "predicating deals upon SDMI compliance", the industry is already moving in its own direction toward digital distribution. The deal between Emusic and Costello is therefore "important", according to Brass, and should lead to more artists following the same path.

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