HP To Bundle Omnifone’s iTunes Rival

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PC manufacturer HP is to offer Omnifone’s digital streaming service MusicStation pre-installed on European laptops and desktops, in a bid to rival iTunes

British music group Omnifone is teaming up with Hewlett-Packard to offer its MusicStation Desktop streaming service pre-loaded onto HP computers and laptops. The company, which specialises in cloud-based music services, hopes that its European-based music store will provide a legitimate alternative to Apple’s iTunes.

For a subscription of £8.99 a month, MusicStation Desktop will provide unlimited access to millions of tracks from all four major music labels – Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Music and Warner Music International – as well as a selection of independent labels. Unlike rival services such as Spotify, MusicStation allows tracks to be downloaded directly to the user’s PC over the Internet for both online and offline listening.

All the music comes in WMA format and loaded with DRM, that will deactivate the music as soon as the user stops paying their subscription. However, subscribers will also be able choose 10 tracks each month to download in MP3 format. These files can be kept permanently on the user’s computer and transferred on to other devices.

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Omnifone is attempting to entice people to try the MusicStation Desktop service with the offer of a free trial for anyone who purchases an HP computer. “Starting today, HP PC users … can try MusicStation for free for up to 14 days, get access to millions of tracks, keep their favourite tracks permanently and share music and playlists with other MusicStation users,” said Charl Snyman, HP’s vice president of the personal systems group (EMEA) in a statement.

The service will be available in 10 European countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, according to the company. “We look forward to extending our partnership onto even more PCs and territories, to ensure consumers have the ability to gain legitimate access to the world’s music on every HP PC they purchase,” said Rob Lewis, chief executive of Omnifone.

Some members of the music industry seem to view the MusicStation Desktop service is a new ally in the ongoing battle against illegal file-sharing: “With its huge scale and user base, HP’s 10 country introduction of Omnifone’s MusicStation unlimited music service for the PC will help encourage legitimate access to digital music content from Universal Music and all the other major and independent labels,” said Rob Wells, digital senior vice president of Universal Music Group International.

Meanwhile, Sony’s executive vice president of global digital business Michael Paull also expressed his support for the service. “Consumers are asking for innovative digital music services that blend both access and ownership, and come pre-bundled with devices,” he said. “We are pleased to be supporting Omnifone’s partnership with HP to meet that demand and extend the reach of the MusicStation platform to mass-market audiences.”

Last week it was reported that the first file-sharing trial in the UK had ended in acquittal. Alan Ellis, the founder of large-scale pirate music website Oink’s Pink Palace, was cleared of defrauding thousands of pounds from record labels and musicians on the grounds that Oink did not host any music itself, but simply indexed the files users had available on their computers. “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people,” he told police officers.

Meanwhile developers have been working on a new music file format, called MusicDNA, that contains embedded additional content such as lyrics, videos, news updates and album artwork, in a bid to combat music piracy. Music labels and bands will be able to send updates to the music files – with tour dates, interviews or updates to social networking pages – while illegally-downloaded files remain static.

Business secretary Lord Mandelson promised to clamp down on illegal file-sharers in the Digital Economy Bill, describing how the government will impose an escalating series of sanctions on persistent offenders. However, the proposal has been attacked by the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) and TalkTalk, as well as thousands of members of the public, who complain that the measures would penalise innocent people.

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