Legal MP3 download service due within weeks

By this autumn, Internet users will be able to legally download songs from the Web in return for a flat rate annual fee

Wippit, the UK's legal alternative to underground music-sharing sites, will launch its service this autumn.

The company announced on Thursday that its commercial service will go live on 4 October, 2001. For £50 per year, users will be able to download an unlimited amount of music from Wippit. Wippit is a peer to peer file-swapping service like Napster, but unlike Napster, which fell foul of the US courts for copyright infringement earlier this year, Wippit will only allow people who have paid the fee to download music. It is also planning to launch a more expensive service next year that will give access to music videos and some exclusive content.

Wippit has not yet announced which music labels it has signed deals with, so it is currently unclear how much material will be available. Paul Myers, Wippit's chief executive, told ZDNet News recently that a number of significant deals would be announced soon.

Users will also be able to download mobile phone ringtones, and search for music from their handsets by using a "wireless search". Myers believes that this will allow subscribers to track down a favourite piece of music if they hear it in a club.

By paying royalties to the record labels, Wippit should avoid the legal problems that have affected services such as Napster, Aimster and Scour.

Wippit released a test version of its software client last year. As a way of thanking everyone who provided feedback, it is planning to let alpha testers subscribe to Wippit at "a substantial discount".

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