U strings Loudeye for online catalog

Tech company to digitize, store, dstribute digital music

In a move that could signal the first foray by a major label into large-scale online music distribution, Universal Music Group has tapped Loudeye Technologies to encode and store its current U.S. music and musicvideo catalog in a secure digital format.

As part of the nonexclusive deal, announced Friday, Seattle-based Loudeye, which provides the backend infrastructure and services for companies that make and distribute digital content, also will stream short audio and musicvideo samples from Universal’s library for use by online retailers.

In addition to the label’s active domestic catalog, which includes 14,000-plus audio titles and more than 30,000 music videos, Loudeye will also be digitizing and storing the recordings’ attendant CD cover art, liner notes and other supplementary information that normally comes with hard copies.

‘Net move

The move puts Universal as close to releasing a full complement of music products directly through the Internet as any of the big five labels has been to date, even as the company continues to litigate vigorously against online file-sharing and streaming services like Napster, MP3.com and Scour Exchange.

That release could begin to happen in earnest in as little as a month or two, said one person familiar with the situation.

“This is a logical first step towards wading, and even swimming, into those waters,” the person said of the deal. “By the end of the year, you will definitely see thousands of titles available for download.”

Depending on the reception from consumers to the current catalog, the world’s largest recorded music company may also begin encoding and selling recordings from its voluminous back catalog over the next several months, the source added.

Warners led way

The move follows closely on the heels of an announcement earlier this month from Warner Music Group, which said it plans to have at least 1,000 of its titles available for secure pay download via major online retailers like WalMart.com by the end of the year.

Universal itself has already released close to 500 digital tracks on a trial download basis through its experimental Bluematter service, the source said, but the Loudeye pact will allow it to proceed on a far more ambitious scale.

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