Internet Music War May Be in the Offing

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Vivendi-Universal dusted off its year-old alliance with Sony last month to launch what European media call a "music war" against the Bertelsmann-Napster alliance for dominance in online music.

Europeans are taking CEO Jean-Marie Messier's announcement far more seriously than the U.S. media did.

Americans doubt that the model Messier proposes -- a subscription version of Napster -- would draw enough customers to pay off. But Europeans think the plan can work, perhaps because they are more used to paying for things than getting them free.

Universal Music Group and Sony declared a joint venture in May last year "to develop a subscription-based service that will include various music and video offerings for the Internet across multiple platforms," a corporate statement issued at the time said.

Nothing much was done about it until Messier began talking up a challenge to Napster and its sometime partner, German media giant Bertelsmann. So far, the Germans have declined comment on the French initiative.

But Bertelsmann has confirmed the alliance with Napster. Alexander Adler, a spokesman for the Bertelsmann e-Commerce Group, told Reuters that the company would continue to pursue Napster-style technology for its planned online music service.

Messier told the French publication La Tribune that since Universal and Sony were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the world music business, they would control 50 percent of the world's music and could license it on a global basis.

He noted that Duet already has a team in San Francisco working on the details and should be ready to launch more than 10,000 music titles on the Web by the summer. He emphasized that the rights of artists and their copyrights would be protected.

Messier dismissed talk of an alliance with Napster.

Duet plans to finance royalty payments to artists through monthly membership fees paid by individuals who want to download songs or other pieces, much along the same lines as Napster proposed during its U.S. court battles.

Moreover, Duet will develop a security network able to prevent distribution on the Web beyond the targeted recipient.

This summer, European media agreed, could see a donnybrook between the two competitors as each one tries to pull other music companies into "his boat."


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