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The BBC's Max Foster reports
Napster could be a distribution channel
 real 56k

Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 12:20 GMT
AOL could sign up with Napster
Napster user listening to music
Gerry Levin hopes that Napster users are happy to pay their dues
The online music swapping service Napster could become a channel to distribute songs produced by music publisher Warner Brothers, according to Gerry Levin, the chief executive of media giant AOL Time Warner.

However, in an interview with the BBC's World Business Report, Mr Levin said Napster could not survive in its current form.

AOL Time Warner chief executive Gerry Levin
Gerry Levin believes in online music distribution
Napster has been sued by Warner Brothers and most of the other big music publishers for making extensive copyright violations possible.

Napster's software allows users to swap copyrighted songs between them without paying royalties.

A US court has ordered Napster to stop this kind of song swapping or face closure.

AOLster?

AOL Time Warner hopes to move quickly into the world of online music distribution, setting up its own system for doing so.

However, he said this would not be an exclusive system. The media giant would "encourage many middlemen distributors of music".

Mr Levin believes that online music distribution will take the "business of enjoyment of music" and "bring it into the digital communications age".

Digital downloads would "make music more accessible", and create more opportunities for both established and new artists.

Pay as you listen

But he warned that fans would have to be made to pay for the service.

Any music distribution, Mr Levin said, would have to recognise copyright, and that was the reason why Napster had to change its business model.

He said nobody knew what kind of business Napster would become.

But he did not exclude the possibility of an alliance with the controversial music swapping service: "We will sign up with Napster if there is a copyright-protected system - at the moment there isn't."

So far, only German music giant Bertelsmann has struck an alliance with Napster. The two firms hope to offer a music subscription service from some time this summer.

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