EMI's music is going digital

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The Independent Online
THE MUSIC giant EMI is to encode its vast back catalogue of millions of songs in digital format, so that they can be sold and downloaded over the Internet by Christmas.

The move is the biggest by a major record label towards selling music online, and indicates the music industry's growing anxiety over the popularity of music encoded in the MP3 format which can be copied for free over the global network.

EMI said yesterday that it will digitise its back catalogue in the new Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) format, under which the music creator can prevent a file being copied or played more than a specified number of times. That means that the record company would receive and control the royalty payments from files.

MP3 files, by contrast, can be created quickly from CDs and then posted on the Net for downloading by others, meaning that they have become the equivalent of a global home-taping system. Recently, a site for MP3 files - mp3.com - became one of the most popular destinations on the Net, while across the network, searches for MP3 files have become more frequent than for sex sites.

Even though EMI will not have to make any physical object for the new digitised versions of its songs, the cost to buyers "will not be massively cheaper" than for physical ones, said an EMI spokesman. Prices have not yet been set.

EMI oversees labels such as Capitol, Virgin and Blue note and owns the rights to songs by a huge range of artists, with millions of albums in its back catalogue.

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