Software giant's MSN Music to team with venture

Microsoft on Thursday became the second official licensee of Pressplay, the digital music distribution venture of music congloms Sony and Universal.

Pressplay, set to bow by the end of this summer, will team with the software juggernaut’s MSN Music portal, which launched last April, to offer a co-branded music distribution service. Users of the planned venture will be able to stream — and eventually download — songs from such artists as Eminem, Destiny’s Child, U2 and Jennifer Lopez.

Deal follows a similar agreement two months ago between Pressplay and mega-portal Yahoo!

As part of the latest alliance, Microsoft has also cleared Pressplay, formerly known as Duet, to use the Windows Media format for putting its music up on the Net with all of Pressplay’s current and future affiliates.

Thursday’s deal raises the stakes in the rivalry between Pressplay and MusicNet, a similar distribution service backed by AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI, which will offer music from the three congloms’ respective music labels.

MusicNet’s first licensees are America Online, media software maker and Microsoft rival RealNetworks and file-swapping renegade Napster, which has received financial support and expertise from Bertelsmann.

The latter alliance was called into question, however, when a federal judge on Wednesday ordered that Napster remain shut down until it can rid its network completely of unauthorized files. Netco has been working feverishly on a second version of its service that compensates copyright holders, which is also set to bow before fall.

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