Netco puts McCartney album online

Yahoo! is looking to end Apple’s and Microsoft’s dominance of the technology behind online music.

In a first for mainstream pop music, Yahoo! will sell Jesse McCartney’s new album “Right Where You Want Me,” from Disney-owned Hollywood Records, in the unprotected MP3 format.

That means consumers will be able to play it on any digital music device, including Apple’s iPod. MP3 files are the only type that will play on an iPod besides those downloaded from iTunes.

But because they have no copy protection, MP3 files can be easily traded on peer-to-peer networks, emailed to friends or burned onto an endless number of CDs.

“We’re trying to be realistic,” said Ken Bunt, senior VP of marketing at Hollywood Records. “Jesse’s single is already online and we haven’t put it out. Piracy happens regardless of what we do. So we’re going to see how Jesse’s album goes (as an MP3) and then decide on others going forward.”

Yahoo! previously sold an exclusive version of Jessica Simpson song “A Public Affair” as an MP3, but it has never offered a major-label album for sale elsewhere without copy restriction, nor have any of the other digital musicstores (Daily Variety, July 20).

Labels and Netcos will be watching sales of the album, which Yahoo! will promote heavily throughout its network of Web sites to see whether consumers are more interested in buying unprotected MP3 files and whether it has any impact on piracy.

Yahoo! only has rights from Hollywood to sell the album in its entirety, for $9.99, not by individual track. ITunes and other musicstores also will sell “Right Where You Want Me” with copy protection.

Since online music sales started, diskeries have insisted on copy protection in hopes of restricting piracy and promoting Internet sales.

Yahoo!, which has the Net’s most popular music Web site but hasn’t become a significant player in digital music sales, has been pushing for labels to change their policy and sell music in MP3 format. If it gets more labels on board, Yahoo! could reach the vast audience of iPod owners, as well as those sporting Microsoft’s soon-to-launch Zune, which both play only MP3s and songs downloaded from their partner musicstores.

“We think this is a really good experiment, because copy protection is not doing anything to stop people from stealing when you can just get unprotected tracks off of a CD or get music illegally online,” said Yahoo! Music topper Dave Goldberg. “We think it’s good to make it easy for consumers to get digital music on whatever device they want and for companies like us to not be reliant on one particular technology company for how our consumers can access music.”

Because Apple doesn’t license the copy-protection technology behind iTunes, musicstores like Yahoo!, Napster and Rhapsody that want to sell major-label music have to use Microsoft’s alternative.

EMusic is currently the only online musicstore that sells songs in MP3 format, but it specializes in indie music and doesn’t have any major-label tracks.

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