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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
Download battle reaches Europe
Robbie Williams performing in Denmark last week
More than 200,000 songs from all the major labels are available
Microsoft has launched a music download service in Europe after the success of a similar service run by rival Apple in the United States.

Microsoft's MSN Music Club allows fans in the UK, France and Germany to buy single songs from 75p, or 0.99 euros.

It is being billed as the first pan-European pay-as-you-go online music shop.

Apple's iTunes music store, which offers songs for $0.99 (62p), was an instant hit when it launched in the US in May - but Microsoft has beaten it to the European market.

Through Microsoft, fans can buy more than 200,000 songs from all five major record labels - roughly the same as the iTunes catalogue.

Many tunes are priced at 75p, with more popular songs at 99p and "gold" singles at 1.19.

Gold tracks are new singles, available as soon as they are sent to radio stations - up to six weeks before the CDs reach shops.

These new services represent the second generation of online music stores in Europe
Charles Grimsdale
Digital music company OD2
And full albums will be priced to download from 7.99, or 12.49 euros.

Songs are available through the 250 million copies of the latest version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player as well as its website.

The new service was given a "soft launch" last week and is being run in conjunction with digital music company OD2.

There has already been a "dramatic" increase in users after Microsoft 's previous subscription-only model was expanded, OD2 chief executive Charles Grimsdale said.

ITunes enjoyed surprise success when it launched in the US in May, selling more than five million songs in the first two months.

Microsoft's service was not a direct response to iTunes' popularity, but was designed to please fans who were reluctant to sign up for a subscription, he said.

It had also been made possible because record companies had "opened up" their licensing requirements in the last six months, he said.

Burning tracks

"These new services represent the second generation of online music stores in Europe," he said.

Fans can copy tracks, burn them to CDs and transfer them to other devices as much as they want "within reason", he added.

An Apple spokesman could not say when iTunes music store was likely to launch in the UK because they were currently negotiating with record companies.

"There are people thrashing out deals as we speak," he said.

Windows iTunes

He added that iTunes used a higher quality audio file and that users had the same level of rights as people who bought CDs.

It is currently only available to Mac users, but a Windows version of iTunes is expected to be launched in the US by the end of the year.

The new services are leading the way in legitimate downloading after several years during which unofficial sites have allowed fans to access music for free.

The music industry branded it "piracy" and blamed it for a slump in CD sales.

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