Music Subscription Partnership Made

NEW YORK — RealNetworks, maker of a popular Internet-based music and video player, is partnering with record label owners AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann AG and EMI Group to create an online music subscription service, the companies announced Monday.

Called MusicNet, the venture will allow music fans to download their favorite songs over the Internet, but will require them to pay for it.

“The launch of MusicNet will catalyze an exciting new era in digital music distribution,” said RealNetworks chairman and CEO Rob Glaser, who will also serve as chairman and interim CEO of MusicNet. “MusicNet will offer consumers an easy, simple way to get the highest-quality music while also protecting the intellectual property of record companies and artists.”

The deal marks the first time so many major labels have agreed to license music for mass online distribution, the companies said.

Other music download services, most notably Napster, have come under fire for allowing free downloads of songs for which they don’t own the copyrights. Napster is currently facing a court-ordered injunction limiting what it may offer on its music download Web site.

Under the terms of the deal announced Monday, the record labels and RealNetworks will each own a minority stake in MusicNet. Each label will license music to MusicNet on a non-exclusive basis. The company also will seek to partner with other labels for content.

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