updated 2/4/2005 3:01:31 PM ET 2005-02-04T20:01:31

The founder of pioneering music download Web site MP3.com is preparing to re-enter the digital music business with a new online music service set to debut next week.

As when he launched MP3.com in 1997, Michael Robertson's new service, dubbed MP3tunes, will sell tracks in the MP3 format, which doesn't have any copy-protection restrictions and can be played on most, if not all, digital music players.

The service, to go online next Thursday, will sell individual tracks for 88 cents and albums for $8.88, said Robertson.

Because major record companies don't generally license their artists' music as MP3s, preferring to use formats that can set limits on copying and CD burning, none of the roughly 300,000 tracks initially for sale on MP3tunes will be from major label artists.

Most other major online music services are licensed to sell a million or more major label and independent acts.

Robertson, 37, said he's optimistic major record labels, despite their concerns over piracy, will eventually license music in the MP3 format.

"The industry has changed remarkably over the last seven to eight years and I think the next step ... is to say we'll sell a song without DRM," Robertson said. "I don't think it's such a stretch."

DRM is short for digital rights management, the industry term for copy-protection encoding.

He is also planning to eventually launch a device for the home designed to function like a computer server where users can store their digital music and access it from other computers over the Internet.

The device, dubbed MP3beamer, stems from Robertson's original "music locker" concept _ a system to enable people to access their personal music collections wherever they go.

Robertson's first stab at it involved buying thousands of CDs and making them accessible in a central server run by MP3.com. That led to a slew of litigation.

"Obviously, having one big centralized system didn't work out because of the licensing issues," he said. "So this is a different approach to that same problem."

Robertson's iconoclastic entrepreneurial adventures include creating Lindows Inc. to sell distributions of the open-source Linux operating system.

He later changed the company's name to Linspire after getting $20 million from Microsoft Corp. in the July settlement of a trademark infringement suit.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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